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Haiti six months later: Hope in a hospital

July 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
[Editor's note: David Ono from ABC7 Eyewitness News recently returned to Haiti to see what progress has been made six months after the earthquake. Ono's reports reveal a side to Haiti that very few people are talking about. Watch what happens when Ono returns to Haiti, all week at 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Eyewitness News.]

Amid the despair and devastation in Haiti, there is hope. Much of it can be traced to the volunteers who put their lives on hold to help Haitians who lost everything in January's 7.0-magnitude earthquake.

One Southern California doctor is making a big difference.

I don't need to tell you the state of healthcare in Haiti is deplorable. But there are some remarkably positive things happening too.

A surgeon I introduced you to in January calls himself the "eternal optimist."

In my return to Haiti, I meet up with Dr. Henri Ford. He had just gotten off a plane from Los Angeles, yet still had boundless energy.

"I was born in Port-au-Prince," said Ford. "I grew up just a few miles from where the epicenter hit."

Ford is the vice president and chief of surgery at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.

We first met in Port-au-Prince days after the earthquake. He was saving countless lives in a "M.A.S.H."-style unit he set up in an empty soccer field.

He recalls the day he returned to L.A.

"After two of the most grueling weeks of my life, I felt guilty because I felt that I was really abandoning the people who were suffering," said Ford.

So he has been traveling back and forth ever since. Today, he continues his amazing work at Bernard Mevs Hospital in the heart of Port-au-Prince.

With each bed we visit, there's a compelling story.

One little boy is clearly comforted with the doctor's presence.

"So he is explaining to us that he got injured during the earthquake and basically has been at the hospital for the past five months," said Ford.

The boy was buried in concrete. You can see the scars on his head and his injured legs. But he has defied the odds thanks to the efforts at the hospital.

The same holds true two beds down. A little girl lost her leg in the quake, but is still able to smile.

Throughout the hospital, an emotional tug of war: heartbreak followed by happiness.

One little baby almost died the night before. They saved her. The child's mother will not leave her side.

Outside, we encounter a premature baby. Preemies usually face certain death in Haiti.

"These babies are just left to die," said Ford. "Because the parents are not able to feed them."

This baby girl is now a month old and perfectly healthy.

A little girl recovering from surgery was performing some makeshift rehabilitation therapy as she practiced walking. Her leg was horribly infected from a rat bite in the camps.

Ford says those squalid camps are a big source of patients, many of them children.

"They come either emaciated or they have that big belly, and if you have to do emergency surgery on these patients, that presents a particular problem because they cannot heal their wounds -- they are so malnourished," said Ford.

Dr. Addie Spier describes another crisis arising from the camps: suicide. They saved two young women. One ingested bleach, the other rat poison and batteries.

"Intentional ingestion. This is two teenage women, two within one night, not knowing each other. These are teenagers," said Spier.

My visit to Port-au-Prince is all about perspective. The time we spent in the camps was horrible. Its residents have very little hope.

While life is difficult in Bernard Mevs Hospital, there is enormous hope -- such a rarity. It's delivered by the people you have been meeting, giving their time and expertise for nothing more than the gratification of knowing they're helping.

Dr. Spier is from Redondo Beach. "Everybody has something to give, no matter how small. It's really important," said Spier.

Dr. Pang is from San Jose. "I've always wanted to volunteer and do something like this," said Pang.

Nurse Snead is from Sacramento. "Come help. It's great. It's the best experience I've had so far in my life," said Snead.

Most of the patients they are helping have the opportunity to live long lives.

One little boy hasn't walked in five months, but he's going to.

A little girl will get a prosthesis. She too will walk again.

Hopefully the girl with the infected leg will not remember the rat bite, but instead, the doctor who helped her.

"To the extent that I have a heartbeat and I can still speak, I'm going to continue to be hopefully a force, an instrument for progressive change here because there is no other choice," said Ford. "People lost their lives after this earthquake. If we were to go back to what existed before, then they would have lost their lives in vain."

A preacher arrives at the hospital. Haitians are deeply religious. Six months ago they were praying for the dead. Today, they are singing for their future.

Bernard Mevs Hospital is run by two surgeons, brothers. They say what makes this hospital work is volunteers like Ford, and charitable organizations like Food For The Poor and Project Medishare. These organizations have donated a great deal to keep the hospital's doors open.

There are groups out there that have found a way to make a huge difference.

Friday, July 16, 11 p.m.: Where has all the money gone? Southern Californians have donated more than $60 million. You have a right to know where it's going. I will tell you what we have found.


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