The Spirit of Haiti

By Tyler Marshall - February 8, 2010

After two weeks of as a volunteer with International Medical Corps in Port-au-Prince, Haitian-American physician Marie Kima said the suffering she saw there evoked a deep sadness, but that the spirit of the Haitians she saw and treated gave her strength.

“I tried to stay focused and work hard so I wasn’t overwhelmed by what I’ve seen,” she said on the eve of her departure. “I take my inspiration from the Haitian people and their resilience and the hope they show as they go about their daily lives.”

Kima is one of several Haitian-American medical professions who have volunteered to work with International Medical Corps since the Jan 12th earthquake and their knowledge of the Creole language has made these volunteers especially valuable as they interact with patients. Their links to Haiti also add an extra dimension to their own personal experience here.

She said she volunteered to come to Haiti because, “I just wanted to be there with them.”

Kima left Haiti for the United States as a pre-teen, studied medicine in the U.S., and now shares a two-person practice in Gainesville, Florida, specializing in infectious diseases. She thinks of herself mainly as an in-patient physician, but in Port au Prince, she chose to work in a mobile clinic in the hard-hit Petionville section of the city about four miles from the main national university hospital.

The clinic, perched on a small knoll, looks out on a sprawling makeshift tent city that has grown on what before the quake was a golf course

When she arrived, the foundations of a clinic were apparent, but little else. The first day, she treated patients protected from the sun by only simple sheeting supported by metal poles, which, she recalled, “kept falling on my head”. The next day a full field tent was erected that gave patients a degree of privacy and gave Kima a more sheltered space to administer medicine.

During her time at Petionville, she treated several cases of hypoglycemia--low blood sugar—that she believed were triggered by people not having enough to eat. She recalled one woman came in with a blood sugar level of 11 on a scale where 70 is considered normal. After spending time on an intravenous drip to restore proper levels, the woman walked home, Kima said.

Among her most memorable experiences was treating a young boy of about 10, who came to the clinic in the midst of an asthma attack.

“There was nothing to treat him,” she recalled.

Then luck took over. Her cousin, who had not seen her since the earthquake, suddenly appeared at the clinic.

“We embraced and then I asked him to take the boy to a local hospital, where he received the treatment needed save his life,” recalled Klima. “I definitely thought he was going to die.”