South Florida medical professionals help out in Haiti

It was a city in ruins. The dazed expressions, the emptiness etched on the faces of mothers, fathers and children. The stench of dead bodies.

It is what Dr. Kansky DeLisma, 45 , found on Jan. 22, 2010, when he went to Haiti as a medical volunteer, two weeks after the earthquake struck. And it was what motivated DeLisma, an internist practicing in South Florida, to start Direct Initiatives to Support Haiti, or DISH, a nonprofit focusing on aiding Haitians in need of medical assistance.

“I wanted to make a direct contribution to these people who had lost everything,” DeLisma said.

In May, DeLisma and a team of 19 medical professionals from South Florida —including cardiologists, plastic surgeons, internists and nurses — traveled to Haiti to treat those needing medical attention. The trip had two goals: to provide free healthcare and assess a Port-au-Prince hospital two years after the disaster, and to share medical knowledge with Haitian doctors.

“I was very skeptical to return to Haiti after learning that my brother and his wife almost lost their lives,” said Marjorie Mompoint, who was born in Haiti and now lives in South Florida. It was the first trip back for the nurse since the earthquake. “The doctors saved a lot of lives, and everyone gave 100 percent. The patients were sick, but they were smiling and moving on with their lives.”

The group worked at the Hôpital de la Paix in Delmas, a suburb of Port-au-Prince particularly hard hit. The hospital staffs two doctors, who see hundreds of patients daily. With the DISH doctors and nurses, the wait time for patients was reduced from six to eight hours to less than one hour. Most common cases included heartburn due to malnutrition, hypertension, infected wounds and rashes.

The group was concerned that the hospital, two years after the earthquake, still lacked basic supplies such as hand sanitizer, paper towels and trash cans. They were encouraged, however, to see fewer people living in tent cities.

“Things have changed very little. We cannot say nothing has changed, it has, but it is very modest.” DeLisma said.

DISH, in partnership with Volontariat pour le development d’Haiti (Volunteers for the development of Haiti, VDH), a youth nonprofit organization in Haiti, held a seminar to share knowledge on some of the key medical topics that the doctors and nurses encounter. Topics included hypertension, diabetes, asthma, heart attacks, HIV/AIDS, and surgical wound care.

“The conference was well attended,” said Dr. Ronald Reyna, 39 , a plastic surgeon from Miami. “There were a lot of younger physicians who deal with the core Haitian patients in the area.”

DeLisma plans to make the mission an annual event.

“The success of both initiatives represented an important milestone for DISH, setting new goals for future missions and new partnerships,” said DeLisma.