Cougs Helping Haiti
By Jason Krump
“He said, ‘We need lots of help,’” Tingstad recalled.
The call was from Jim Lindgren, a medical school classmate of Tingstad and president of the charitable organization Window of Hope. Upon his arrival to the stricken country, Lindgren assessed the situation and called Tingstad for advice, and help.
A month later, Tingstad was on a plane to Haiti with the mission to provide whatever help he could.
Tingstad, who played fullback for the WSU football team from 1986-88, and Lindgren met while attending medical school at WSU in 1989, beginning an over two-decade long friendship.
It didn’t take long for Lindgren to determine that with the overwhelming needs of Haiti, he needed to seek advice from his friend.
“We were seeing multiple trauma patients coming to our makeshift clinic and there really wasn’t anywhere to refer them at the time,” says Lindgren, a board certified physician in emergency medicine, pediatrics, and internal medicine. “Two functioning hospitals were overrun and we were seeing fractures, wounds, and infections.”
“It became very apparent that there were not resources on the ground for a surgeon to be a surgeon,” Tingstad said.
Tingstad, along with other surgeons, nurses, and anesthetists from Pullman, traveled to Haiti on Feb. 24. The group also brought medical supplies, made possible through donations from the Pullman community and hospitals, and was able to fly to the country because of donations of jets from private corporations, including Pullman’s Schweitzer Engineering.
After a stop in Colorado to pick up additional medical personnel, the group arrived in Haiti where they were greeted by the United States military at an airport in Port-au-Prince.
“It was really nice to see American uniform officers coming out to meet you at the plane saying this is where you go.” Tingstad said.
It was when the crew ventured outside the airport grounds that reality hit.
“The real eye-opener is when we needed to move the supplies from the airport terminal outside on the streets,” Tingstad explained. “We had to wade through the crowds to get the supplies into the vans and trucks and literally people just wanted anything you could provide them.
“That was heart-wrenching,” Tingstad added, “because we learned very quickly if we gave one person one thing it caused basically a mob so you really couldn’t give anything away in that setting.”
Quisqueya Christian School, located in Port-au-Prince, had been transformed into what Tingstad described as an “earthquake crisis center.” The Quisqueya crisis center, according to Lindgren, was working with 20 different hospitals throughout Haiti to resource needs.
“They understood what the needs were throughout the country and had the ability to find personnel for them,” Lindgren said.
Tingstad’s group traveled to the town of Jérémie, 120 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The group could travel to the town by car, but it would take a 12-hour drive to get there. Just a month earlier, a United Nations food convoy encountered a highjacking attempt near the town’s airport.
Because of this, a flight was arranged to transport Tingstad and his party.
“Landing on a dirt runway scared me to death,” Tingstad said. “Thankfully, they were American pilots, and they did a wonderful job, but it was new experience to land on a dirt runway.”
Tingstad’s party met with a group of Cuban surgeons and physicians who were already stationed in Jérémie.
“That’s very interesting because of the language barrier,” Tingstad said of working with the Cuban doctors. “They were wonderful people to work with.”
Normally with a population of 30,000, Jérémie’s population had swelled to 100,000 according to Tingstad.
“Everybody was scared to death, nobody wanted to sleep inside,” Tingstad said. “Nobody wanted to be in a structure.”
Setting up an operating room with the supplies they had brought from the states, Tingstad estimates that during their five days in Jérémie, they saw over 450 patients, performed 29 surgeries, and gave out 800 prescriptions.
After returning to the States, Tingstad was able to be in contact with the Cuban physicians in Haiti in order to deliver continuity of care to the patients he saw.
“I have phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and I still correspond almost daily with several of the physicians in Haiti, getting updates and trying to arrange things to be sent directly to them so they have resources in an ongoing fashion,” Tingstad said.
The extent of the tragedy was something that had a profound effect on those who offered their help to the country.
“The scope of the amount of devastation, coupled with the absolute devastation of their infrastructure, was unlike anything I and many other people had experienced,” said Lindgren, who has traveled around the world, including El Salvador in November to help flood victims.
“The perspective that gave you of how fortunate we are is invaluable,” Tingstad said. “I was more blessed by my experiences there. I’ll never forget operating at 10:30 at night, sweating bullets under Chevy headlights made into lights to show up the operative field. The hard parts of it were there, but you left with a blessing of ‘Wow, we are extremely fortunate.’”
And signs of hope exist.
“The things that Ed and his team were able to accomplish really did provide true relief and healing to people. There may be an overwhelming sea of human need there, but they actually did reach in and help to bring healing to both the Haitians and Haiti as a country, and I don’t think that can be overstated,” Lindgren said.
“The magnitude of this disaster is so tremendous and be able to give Haiti the resources to heal itself is really the key.” said Tingstad. “And that’s coming, and that’s encouraging.”
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