Seventh-day Adventist leaders in Haiti confirmed on August 17, 2021, that 12 church members are among more than 1,400 deaths reported so far in that Caribbean nation after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck its southern peninsula on August 14.
“I am overwhelmed with sadness with all the reports and photographs coming in from our church leadership in the south mission territory,” Pierre Caporal, president of the Haitian Union Mission of the Adventist Church, said. “We don’t know the whereabouts of many of our members because there are roads and towns not passable because of the tremendous damage of the earthquake.”
Members Still Missing
Caporal, who has been monitoring the situation from Port-au-Prince, said the casualty numbers continue to rise.
“So far, we know that 21 members have been injured, and 20 homes among the membership were destroyed,” he said. Church leaders are still waiting to hear updates on the unreachable areas and have created a special committee to ascertain the most pressing needs within the church community.
Five Adventist churches were destroyed, and seven more were partially damaged, Caporal reported. Six schools were also damaged.
“People are still very afraid, as aftershocks have been felt after the initial earthquake,” Caporal said. “Many fear a tsunami.”
It’s hard to forget the destruction caused by the 2010 earthquake, which hit Port-au-Prince, killing more than 200,000, he said. Now, with Tropical Storm Grace bringing heavy rains to the island, “the effect of disasters is very vivid in the minds of so many.”
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Haiti has been on the ground assessing the most pressing needs in the community hours after the earthquake hit, Caporal said.
The union office sent a team of doctors and nurses with some staff from Haiti Adventist Hospital to Les Cayes, a coastal town in the southern peninsula hit hard by the earthquake, to assess and help those with the greatest needs, Caporal said. “We will continue to monitor and work on providing assistance to our affected members.”
Adventist Hospital Provides Around-the-Clock Care
Haiti Adventist Hospital, nestled in Diquini, Carrefour, in Port-au-Prince, has seen patients nonstop since 5:00 p.m. on August 14, Scott Nelson, chief medical officer and orthopedic surgeon at the Adventist health-care institution, said. “Since Saturday afternoon, we started operating all through the night, all day Sunday, and all day Monday,” Nelson said. Patients have been pouring into the hospital, taking up the extra 22 beds in the new ward, which has been under renovation. “Some patients have been placed on the floor, others outside, even though the tropical storm is hitting us.”
Scott explained that most patients require orthopedic surgery, and patients continue to be referred to the hospital for surgery. “One patient came in from Les Cayes after she was running out of the building when it began to collapse. The man who was escaping next to her did not make it out,” he said. “She came to us with femur fractures on both legs, and we were able to operate on her. She did well, and tomorrow she will be able to get up.”
The hospital has set up six tents outside to assist the flow of injured patients, Jere Chrispens, administrator at Haiti Adventist Hospital, said. “Our hospital is unique in providing trauma surgery and remains focused on our patients who can be in and out and in recovery,” Chrispens said. Many area hospitals are sending in patients for surgery in exchange for postoperative care, he added.
“Our surgery teams have been working 16 to 20 hours a day in each of the three operating suites in the hospital,” Chrispens said. “This can go on for weeks.”
Working 50 Percent Over Capacity
According to Chrispens, five medical personnel from Loma Linda University Health and from other places in the United States will be arriving in Haiti throughout the week to provide relief to the medical staff who have been working around the clock. In addition, 10 to 12 local church volunteers have been assisting in the kitchen and laundry services, he said.
“Our hospital is more than 50 percent over capacity,” Chrispens said. The hospital typically has 50 beds available, 36 for adults and 14 for pediatrics. Still, with the increasing number of patients, he added, the hospital is making room for 60 to 65 beds for adult care.
A team from Loma Linda University Health will continue to coordinate the travel of medical personnel to Haiti, who will assist with surgeries in the coming weeks, Chrispens said. In addition, medical supplies are being shipped to the hospital in the coming days. “We are working on combining efforts with the union, hospital, and ADRA Haiti to assist those victims,” he said.
Better Trained Hospital Staff to Face Crisis
The number of injured victims does not compare with the influx of patients that overwhelmed the hospital in 2010, Chrispens said. Still, the hospital, which has a staff of 200, has been working hard to care for injured victims, even the regular outpatient emergency cases that occur every day.
“The injuries that we are seeing are not foreign to us, as we have lots of experience from 11 years ago,” Nelson said. He has performed hundreds of orthopedic surgeries since 2010. “The difference is that the hospital and staff are much more prepared to face this crisis and make a big difference for the people affected by this disaster.” The hospital is committed to long-term care, such as rehabilitation and additional operations, he added.
“We are privileged to be here and take care of these amazing people,” Nelson said. “It is wonderful to be able to witness the healing that comes from above and see our patients already starting to get up and about after having major operations.”
Members to Remain Alert
The recent earthquake is a reminder of what the Bible says about the end times, Caporal said.
“We are facing many challenges, but we need to fix our eyes upon Jesus, for we know all these events are signs around the world that He is coming very soon,” he said. He regularly repeats that message in meetings, sharing it with leaders, members, and people in the community on the church’s Voix de l’Esperance station. “As we bring comfort and assistance, we want people to know we are meant to be alive and vigilant at this time, for our deliverance is very near,” he said.