Dr. Doug Harty, a Greenwood dentist, was part of a team of Hoosier doctors that provided emergency medical care to survivors of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti. Submitted photo

Dr. Doug Harty, a Greenwood dentist, was part of a team of Hoosier doctors that provided emergency medical care to survivors of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti. Submitted photo

Local doctors help quake survivors in Haiti 

Lackluster décor seems to be requisite for a medical office, especially the "art" on the walls. Patients frequently see pastel wildflower or watercolor landscape prints, reminiscent of a drug store calendar.

Dr. Doug Harty, a Greenwood dentist, has skipped the healthcare kitsch. In his office, a patient might see photographs of Africa or a Hindu temple, taken by Harty himself. And his photos aren't from vacations, but from his medical mission work. Several times a year, he travels the globe, practicing dentistry with other medical volunteers.

Harty looks something like Sam Waterson — the actor who plays Jack McCoy, on "Law and Order"— sporting a salt-and-pepper coif, dark eyebrows and strong features. But he speaks without the dramatic inflection of a television attorney. Instead, he talks coolly and at length about his passion for helping those in the developing world.

For over 20 years, Harty has made yearly visits to Grand Goave, Haiti, where he works at a clinic on the campus of Lifeline Christian Missions. Along with other volunteers, American and Haitian, he has developed friendships with local patients and workers.

So when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, the epicenter just ten miles from Grand Goave, Harty's passion and composure met the emergency, catalyzing the logistics necessary for immediate action.

"When I turned on the television and found out they had the epicenter towards where we usually go, that's when the thought process became, 'how do I get down there?'" Harty said.

But Harty was not alone in his sense of urgency. His mission would not have been possible without Dr. Bill Rutherford, medical director of the Emergency Department at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. Having worked in emergency rooms and evacuation helicopters, Rutherford has made a high-adrenaline career.

Rutherford has accompanied Harty on his trips to Haiti over the past two decades, and the two have become close friends. They had scheduled their yearly visit to Grand Goave for just two weeks after the quake. However, upon hearing of the disaster, neither hesitated to accelerate his plans.

"I'm an emergency medicine physician," Rutherford said. "That's what I do for a living. I can no more not respond to something like that than I can stop breathing. It's hard wired in me to go to something like that.

"These are people we've known in many cases for 20 years," he added. "They're not only people in great need, but they're our friends. How do you not go to help your friends?"

The two flew to the neighboring Dominican Republic, where a Blackhawk helicopter took them to the American embassy in Port-au-Prince.

"As soon as you walked outside the gate, you could smell it," Harty remembered. "You could smell dead people. That city was full of it."

Hiring a tap-tap, a pickup truck outfitted with rows of benches in the bed, the pair traveled to Grand Goave. "As we went along, the enormity of the situation was apparent," Harty said. "There were fires, there was dust in the air. The smell was overwhelming to the point where I was spitting out the window."

When the two arrived at the Lifeline clinic, the walls around the compound had crumbled and a warehouse used to store supplies had collapsed, making useful tools inaccessible. However, with the clinic still standing, the doctors went to work with disposable suture kits and a vat of disinfectant. Rutherford's background had prepared him for what would come.

"There were maybe 2,500 or 3,000 people in an area where there may normally be 20 or 30," he said. "I don't worry about not having supplies, not having infrastructure. I just do what I can and go from there."

The two worked in close contact with the United States Navy and Marines, sending patients to nearby ships for urgent care. They stayed for two weeks, communicating with home only by emails sent via satellite.

Six months later

Nearly six months after the earthquake that might forever divide Haitian history, Harty and Rutherford returned to Grand Goave, accompanied by a team of other Hoosier doctors. The situation was still dire for the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The U.S. military – a crucial aid to the doctor's work in January – officially ended Operation Unified Response during their most recent visit, in June. Only 500 National Guard soldiers remained for building projects, down from 22,000.

Katrina Miller, a nursing student at Indiana Wesleyan, spent five weeks, from May to June, working in Haiti. Part of that time was with Harty and Rutherford.

"A lot of the rubble from the earthquake isn't cleaned up," she said "They've managed to clear it off the roads, but the piles are still there."

Harty said he didn't spend enough time in Port-au-Prince to see the true scope of the situation. "But as we were going outside the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, we saw where they'd been dumping rubble, and it was acre upon acre upon acre of rubble."

As of June, an estimated 1.5 million people were still living in tents because of the quake. Hurricane season has already produced a few major storms, but Haiti has emerged mostly unscathed, save reports of minor flooding. The effects of a direct hit could be devastating. Even those whose homes withstood the quake are often afraid to go back inside.

"Seems like a lot of people have tents beside their houses," Harty said. "Houses have cracks in the wall, it may not be stable, or they're scared to go back inside. They'll cook and do things inside they normally do in the day, but at night they'll sleep in tents."

A resilient people

Haiti's continued struggle goes beyond physical needs. The survivors have suffered enormous emotional and psychological trauma.

"We'd see people in the clinic who would come in and complain of chest pain or headaches, and they'd say they've been having these symptoms since the earthquake," Miller said. "And it led you to believe it's probably the stress of the earthquake impacting them physically."

Still, for all the hardship and suffering unleashed, Harty and Rutherford see the island pulling itself up.

Both doctors agreed that the disaster has focused international attention on Haiti in an unprecedented way. Together with the increased foreign aid and debt forgiveness, Haiti has a unique opportunity to finally build the infrastructure it needs for a sustainable future.

However, both doctors agreed that there were some caveats.

"This could be their moment," Harty said. "This could be the time where things get done right.

"Could be" is the key phrase, he added.

Rutherford was understandably skeptical, comparing the quake's aftermath to other chapters in Haiti's history.

"Things get energized for a while, then gradually the flywheel spins down," Rutherford said. "And that will happen here, too."

Still there was room for hope. "There's been enough contact and enough people who have gone to Haiti or seen it on TV... that there will be more benefit out of this," Rutherford said. "However, like with all things, it will come in large part down to the ability of the Haitian people to sustain (themselves) once the international support begins to wane."

Harty said he fears Haiti will fall out of the spotlight, but does not believe it has happened yet.

"Our airplane was nearly filled with Americans, which usually isn't the case," he said.

Rutherford echoed Harty's sentiment, again finding opportunity in the disaster.

"It's like having a fire," he said. "There has to be enough fuel to sustain a fire. Hopefully, this will do it."


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