Local doctors help quake survivors in Haiti

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

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


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


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


"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



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