Monday, February 01, 2010

At Dominican Border, Parish Clinic Offers Help

Top Catholic News

At Dominican Border, Parish Clinic Offers Help
By David Agren
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Monday, February 01, 2010

JIMANI, Dominican Republic (CNS)—Dave Innocent Lemuel, a 13-year-old Haitian, managed to crawl out of the rubble of his home, despite suffering two fractures of his left leg during the earthquake.

Finding adequate medical attention near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince was another matter.

His father, Innocent Lemuel, said at least four hospitals turned his son away due to overwhelming patient volumes. Other facilities, meanwhile, had been destroyed.

"He couldn't see a doctor in Haiti," Lemuel told Catholic News Service. "In many of these clinics, the doctors are dead."

Dominican rescue workers rushed Dave, who speaks with an easy smile, and his parents to Jimani—a border town on the main road between Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo— where he received treatment and is now recovering at a makeshift rehabilitation clinic for children and their families run by the local Catholic parish, St. Joseph's.

Dave was among the many Haitians who crossed the border to receive medical attention after the Jan. 12 earthquake that claimed at least 150,000 lives and left 3 million injured or homeless. He was also among the thousands receiving care from Catholic groups in the Dominican Republic, who immediately sprang into action—long before foreign aid workers and assistance arrived—to help displaced and wounded Haitians by providing food and medical attention.

Father Roselio Diaz of St. Joseph's Parish said Catholics in Jimani and other parts of the border did not think twice about responding swiftly because "we've been helping the Haitian people long before this tragedy."

The response included the establishment of the makeshift medical clinic in an existing parish-operated nutrition and training center. It also has become a recovery center for children with broken bones, such as Dave, and a place for their displaced families to stay. The clinic has served at least 175 patients since the earthquake, Father Diaz said Jan. 25.

Establishing the clinic was not easy, however. "The church is poor" in the western Dominican Republic, he said, and by the second day after the earthquake, the parish had less than a dollar and was running out of supplies.

Clinic workers reported the initial patient demand from Haitians was intense.

"We had people with broken legs, mutilated hands, mutilated feet, everything," said Blanca Iris Diaz, director of the recovery center.

Gifts from generous Dominicans have allowed the clinic to continue providing rehabilitation. Catholic groups working in other parts of the border region reported similar hardships and shortages.

"The problem is still a shortage of food (for patients and their families) and medicine," said Jesuit Father Regino Martinez, director of Border Solidarity, in the northern border town of Dajabon, Dominican Republic.

Dominican immigration authorities and the military, who normally maintain a strict presence on the border to deter undocumented crossings, also have cooperated in helping injured Haitians receive medical attention, said David Paredes, spokesman for the Dominican armed forces in Dajabon.

Paredes said in late January that immigration officials relaxed restrictions on the injured entering the country after the earthquake, but the flow across the border had slowed somewhat and that the armed forces had taken the most critically injured patients to military hospitals in Santo Domingo.

Dave's fibula and tibia snapped, but among the 17 patients that were still receiving care at the parish clinic, his story is typical, said parish workers.

His family lost their home, and his father's workplace—a call center for foreign clients—was destroyed in the earthquake; the fates of other members of his extended family are unknown. However, media reports from Port-au-Prince said some of those injured in the earthquake died from a lack of medical attention.

Dave's father acknowledged his blessings as he sat on the floor in a room full of children with multiple casts lying on mattresses.

"Without God, the country would be dead by now," he said.

But Lemuel, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, also seemed to recognize the odds his family faced.

"I'd like to go back to Haiti, but the path will be very difficult," Lemuel said. "My pockets are empty. The only thing I have is my belief in God."


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