A Lovell area physician experienced a life-changing week recently – both for her and those she treated – when she journeyed to Haiti for a Christian mission trip.
Dr. Deborah Bracket of Lovell, an emergency room physician at Powell Valley Healthcare, attended the mission March 11-18 through Global Health Outreach, an arm of the Christian Medical and Dental Association that sponsors medical missions throughout the world.
Bracket said she had been thinking of attending a mission of this type for about 15 years but never seemed to find the time with a busy family and professional life, but pulmonologist Dr. Stephen Mainini of Cody encouraged her to go and she eventually decided to take the plunge.
Dr. Mainini attended the mission trip to Haiti, along with Bracket’s son Caleb, a 2016 University of Wyoming graduate in microbiology who is applying to medical school and studying for his Medical College Admission Test to be taken in June.
Others from the local area were Linda Dandy of Powell, who gathers reading glasses for the mission trips, and Zack Herman of Powell, like Caleb a future medical school student.
Among the team of 32 were an anesthesiologist, three physician assistants, a physical therapist and a dentist. There were also two pastors, one of which was Pastor Rod Boatwright from Sarasota, Fla., who headed up the mission trip.
Initially slated to attend the mission for pediatrics work, Bracket – a board-certified family medicine practitioner – actually worked in a number of areas.
“I ended up doing everything,” she said. “You adapt to the need.”
After arriving in Port-au-Prince, the team assembled in a mission house to organize supplies and duties for the week ahead.
“Everything we used we brought with us,” Bracket said, adding that she found out later that team leaders had to bribe customs officials $675 to get the medicine into the country.
As she got to know the team, she realized that the trip was more than a trip to save and improve lives, it was a trip to save souls.
“Those pastors are so on fire with the Lord,” Bracket said. “We’re lukewarm compared to them. One of the shockers to me was that the mission was for souls, not for healthcare. I don’t know why it never occurred to me. We were using healthcare to talk to people about the Lord.”
The next day the mission team traveled by bus to the small city of Jacmel on the south coast of the country, which Bracket said is considered to be a resort town. She said she was surprised by the poverty and lack of government services in Haiti.
“I was shocked by the trash,” she said. “There is no trash disposal there – at all. There’s no concept of public health. Billions (of dollars) have been sent there. What did they do with it?
“There was water running next to garbage. Disease in water is a huge problem. A lot of what we saw was disease from lack of public works. Eighty percent of their (health) problems would go away if they would do three things: treat their water, bury their trash and dispose of their sewage.”
She noted that the mission officials did a good job making sure that none of the team got sick, bringing them fresh water to drink.
“They were very protective of the team,” she said.
Considering that the population has little or no access to good water and public services, Bracket said she was surprised that most patients the team saw were clean and didn’t smell.
“They cleaned up for us,” she said.
The team assembled in a converted church, and every morning a large crowd would gather outside and wait patiently to see a doctor or other staff member. Inside the church was a triage/assessment area, waiting area and various areas for examinations and care. Pews were used for exams and equipment and medicine storage.
“There was a crowd all the way around the building,” Bracket said. “It was cool that when the bus arrived they would sing ‘How Great Thou Art.’ They were very respectful about giving us space.
“We saw people with dehydration, malnutrition, starvation, urinary track infection, vaginal infection, parasites
all of it 100 percent preventable. Every person we
saw got wormed and received multivitamins. We saw 1,550 people in 4½ days.”
Asked if the team could really make a difference with just one week of care, Bracket said she believes they could, noting that once a patient is wormed and given vitamins, that’s a moment in time when the person can be healthy and have a chance to regain a footing with his or her health.
“The kids all have runny noses and a cough, and we realized they all cook inside with charcoal so the kids are constantly exposed to smoke,” she said. “They wash with dirty water.”
Bracket said one of the inspirational people on the trip was Dr. Carolyn Grosvenor, an internal medicine physician from Albany, N.Y. The March trip was her fourth trip to Haiti and her 14th mission trip overall. She said Grosvenor would like to see more healthcare education in Haiti so the people can better take care of themselves.
She said the mission team included several medical and pre-med students, adding, “What a great group of kids!”
One of the distressing things Bracket realized about Haiti is that, although the country is officially Roman Catholic, voodoo is widely practiced. Some of her contact with people was heartbreaking.
One 8-year-old girl asked Bracket to adopt her and take her to the United States. A woman asked if she could have the doctor’s glasses, and Bracket had to explain that she couldn’t help others if she couldn’t see. Another woman asked for prayers for her daughter because her boyfriend wanted to sell her 18-month-old into slavery. A third woman said the voodoo priest who lived next to her wanted to eat her, and one of the pastors told her that there is cannibalism in voodoo.
“I had no idea,” Bracket said. “That’s just creepy.”
Looking back, Dr. Bracket said she hopes the good work of the health professionals and the work of the Lord will continue to help the Haitian people.
“We held a revival every night, with loud music and lots of prayer,” she said. “They totally get it (the message). We just take it for granted.”
By David Peck