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
"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
"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
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,
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