Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A great journey of repairing self, then repairing Haiti

During the Haiti earthquake, Bazelais Suy fell five stories when the stairwell he was on collapsed. The fall did significant damage to his spine and crushed his legs. Days later Suy was dug out of the rubble, but was not able to receive treatment for his injuries until 10 days after the earthquake. With the help of an American doctor, Suy was able to receive treatment at US hospitals for his injuries. Now, Suy has returned to Haiti to help the nation rebuild.

From this great story that we found at CBS 3 Philadelphia, Associated Press reporter Lindsey Tanner followed this incredible journey.

In the dark, Suy (Soo-'EE) drifted in and out of consciousness. He does not remember being pulled out and placed among bodies on the sidewalk.

Friends arrived and lifted Suy into a car, heading down bumpy streets, first to a public plaza several miles away where victims were being taken. His family found him there on the ground and took him to a hospital where conditions were filthy and the only treatment consisted of occasional painkillers. Eventually he was moved to a tent clinic outside Sacre Coeur Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

A doctor from an aid group asked Dr. Dan Ivankovich, a spinal specialist from Chicago, to check on Suy.

Ivankovich was incredulous. Under normal circumstances, patients with spinal-cord injuries would be immediately strapped to a backboard to immobilize the spine and avoid additional nerve damage. Most would then go straight to surgery.

Suy's rescuers had no choice but to move him, probably making the injury worse, Ivankovich said.

And 10 days had passed since the quake.

"I said, 'Are you out of your mind?'" Ivankovich recalled.

Ivankovich, an irreverent, 7-foot-tall surgeon used to treating poor patients from the inner city, had just arrived in Haiti with a medical team. Like his idol, Johnny Cash, the doctor wears black — from his leather cowboy hat and boots to gaudy onyx rings and black diamond ear studs.

It's an honor, he says, to help the downtrodden. And he shares that passion with his young patient.

Suy was born poor in southern Haiti and sent as a boy to live with an aunt in Port-au-Prince and attend school. He was one of the lucky ones. More than half the population lived in poverty even before the quake left more than 1 million homeless. About 40 percent of Haitian adults are illiterate, and almost half of Haitian children don't attend school.

Deeply religious, Suy loves his country but hates its poverty. A few years ago, he formed an advocacy group named GRRANOH, a French acronym meaning roughly "group for ideas, research and action for redirecting Haiti." Its volunteers have tutored orphans, fed the homeless, visited hospital patients and raised awareness about Haiti's needs.

"He doesn't have much but with the little he has, he wants to help people," said his girlfriend, Jeanna Volcy.

In the chaos of post-quake Haiti, Ivankovich was equipped to handle amputations and fractures, not spinal cord injuries. Nor was the damaged hospital in any position to host spinal surgery. Suy, meanwhile, had pressure sores on his back from lying prone for more than a week, and the risk of infection was grave.

When Ivankovich mentioned he would be going back to Chicago, the frightened young man pleaded with him.

"Take me with you," he cried, in halting English.

The doctor in black could not turn away. Ivankovich worked with U.S. authorities to help secure a humanitarian visa. Sixteen days after the quake, he flew to Chicago in an air ambulance. It was Suy's first trip out of Haiti.

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