Chicago-area volunteers treat hundreds in Haiti

January 18, 2010 4:28:34 PM PST
Twenty-three Chicago-area volunteers -- who were on a medical mission in Haiti when the earthquake hit -- are back home after treating many survivors.The team included nurses and technicians who brought supplies to treat thousands of Haitians in need of medical care.

The volunteers had no idea their training and supplies would be tested in a historic tragedy. They felt the earthquake shake the ground on the same day they were supposed to come home. Some of them ran from the mission home, which was on top of a mountain, in the hilltop village of Gramothe.

"[We] experienced this very, very loud, like a freight train on the roof, or a bomb exploding," saidSue Walsh, who led the mission along with her husband.

School children in Haiti sang to thank the visiting nurses. They spent one week on their medical mission, which was organized by a Chicago area nonprofit group called Little by Little. The organization is independent but supported by Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Glenview, where the volunteers held a news conference Monday morning. Some medical staff from Children's Memorial are part of the non-profit group.

"We ran outside, and the trees were shifting and shaking, and it looked like they were blowing," Walsh said.

In the hours that followed the earthquake, the group sprang into action, using the supplies they had left to treat 100 patients.

"Our adrenaline kicked in, and we just worked and did whatever we possibly could to ease the situation," said volunteer Kristen Borth.

There was one patient who touched them all; one of the girls who sang to them earlier in the day had a fatal head injury.

"The child was dying. So, the parents decided to take her home. So, it was just," volunteer Sparvim Nazarof said as she became emotional.

The team knew they would see difficult situations, but they say after the earthquake, they saw unimaginable trauma.

"It was especially frustrating, because being trained in trauma, I knew how things were supposed to go. I knew how we do it in the United States. I knew the supplies that I needed to get things done. And going to this hospital, there were no supplies. There was nothing. Every supply they did have was expired. We had equipment malfunctioning, and it was very frustrating to me, because I'm used to a team that's tight, that knows what to do, how to get it done with the right equipment, and they had nothing," said Heather Vruggink, volunteer.

The group returned over the weekend and were determined to help the survivors.

In the confusion and chaos of the day, the volunteers are unsure which girl from the school died. She was so badly injured, and there were so many others who needed treatment.

The volunteers urge Chicagoans to help with money and prayer.

Chicago TV, Radio team up for Haiti relief

The Chicago broadcasting community is uniting to raise money. The Chicago Helps Haiti drive will be Thursday from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

ABC7 is joining other TV and radio stations to broadcast a blitz of public service announcements, encouraging people to donate money to the American Red Cross.

A phone bank will be set up to accept donations.

Chicago diners contribute to relief effort

Starting Monday, diners at some Chicago restaurants will have a chance to help earthquake victims.

Customers will be asked to add a dollar to their checks, for the relief effort in Haiti. The money will be forwarded to the Heartland Alliance.

The restaurants include such well-known Chicago eateries as Blackbird, Goose Island, Atwood Cafe, Avec, Boka, The Bristol, Chaise Lounge and Piece.

The fundraising effort continues through the week.