To Haiti and Back: A Family Affair

Among the army of volunteers already in the trenches at Hopital Sacre Coeur when the “North State for Haiti” team arrived in Milot, was sixteen-year-old, Bay Area teenager, Rebekah Ryan.

Rebekah, who begged her mom to send her alone to Haiti after the January 12 earthquake, shook the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, is an enthusiastic, one-woman relief aid organization, ready to dive into tending wounds, clearing rubble or sanitizing drinking water.

But her mom laid down the law when Rebekah got the aid-work bug. “I am not, not, not taking you to the airport,” was Dr. Katie Ryan’s natural parental response to her daughter’s call-to-action. Katie pulled a “mom” maneuver on Rebekah, citing dangerous conditions and sketchy accommodations in her refusal to sate her teen’s inner-aid worker.

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But humanitarian insanity runs in the family. Rebekah’s mom, an obstetrician and gynecologist for Kaiser Hospital in Daly City, pictured above, is no stranger to aid work. Katie made her first relief journey two years ago, to Burma.

And like Rebekah, she also felt the pull of Haiti. For Katie, the tug came after receiving an e-mail from her brother, a member of the Order of Malta, a medical relief service organization with ties to CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur.

The e-mail was an urgent post-earthquake call for medical professionals. But even months later, when Katie took the e-mail more seriously, the need for healing arts practitioners was still very real.

Katie, who adamantly cites “finding a program where I could take my kids” as the primary aid-travel criteria, determined CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur to be family-friendly. So, the whole brood – Katie, Rebekah and 18-year-old son, Jake – packed up and made the cross-country and trans-oceanic journey to Milot and Hopital Sacre Coeur.

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Katie is one of the hospital’s champions, admitting, “If I was banged up, I’d let Bernard fix me.” Bernard, as he is affectionately known, is Dr. Jerry Bernard, the hospital’s solo multi-tasking surgeon. He does triple-duty by also serving as counselor and the community’s respected friend.

Bernard was the only doctor at the hospital for a few days after the earthquake and its subsequent flood of patients from Port-au-Prince. “The first few days were terrible,” he recalls, but quickly praises the flow of equipment, supplies and personnel that followed those memorable early days.

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Katie’s endorsement of the care at Hopital Sacre Coeur is justified. The facility seems decidedly ahead of the technology curve for health care facilities in developing nations. The hospital boasts an organized (considering it’s not computerized) medical records unit, ob/gyn, pediatrics and general medicine outpatient clinics (in addition to several specialty clinics for patients with HIV, TB and diabetes), three operating rooms with an operative microscope and c-arm, portable orthopedics equipment, and a near-full-service lab, capable of rapidly processing urine, blood, stool and sputum.

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The facility’s shining star is a neonatal intensive care unit. Luke Rawlings, the physician member of the “North State to Haiti” team, spent a morning in the unit, and agrees that it’s outfitted with all of the necessities: bilirubin lights to treat jaundice, antibiotics, sepsis infection care and the ability to resolve aspiration of birthing fluid.

Luke’s misgiving about the unit is that it exists in a community where women don’t uniformly access pre-natal care and public health information. “They kind of skipped Step One,” he said, but admits that a special place to care for premature babies is a positive step toward preventing unnecessary deaths.

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Katie and Luke, who both have admiration for the work at Sacre Coeur, find common ground in their surprise at routine hospital practices.

Katie confessed to pure shock the first time a newly-operate-on patient was wheeled outside on the way to the hospital’s satellite recovery room. She is amused by the lack of patient modesty. Necessary fly swatters in an otherwise-sterile operating room make her cringe a bit. And a non-verbal, dismissive wave is all she can muster in response to the lax-by-U.S.-standards confidentiality policies.

But, as she’s learned after two weeks in Milot, these practices are part of the cultural fiber of her host country, where she is a visitor and willing assistant to the comparably trained resident Haitian doctors. Based on her ease in the hospital and her easy way with patients, she has clearly settled into this temporary home, even though a bit out of her comfort zone.

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But I have a feeling the Ryan family would be at home almost anywhere. Rebekah and Jake, intelligent, mature companions to their adventure-prone mom, are CRUDEM compound fixtures. They have offered their services as note-takers, surgical assistants, painters, hopscotch aficionados and morale boosters.

Their presence was initially a surprise to me, but if I want to complain about the more prevalent, disaffected, self-involved teenager model, I need to give Rebekah and Jake credit for a willingness (substitute: passion, eagerness, zeal) to contribute their time and talents for the greater good. Now that I know Katie, I see that they come by it honestly.

The team is accepting donations for CRUDEM. Make checks payable to CRUDEM and send to P.O. Box 633, 215 Lake Blvd, Redding, CA 96003.

For more information about CRUDEM and Hopital Sacre Coeur, visit crudem.org.

Adam Mankoski is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your NorthState weekend events to adamm.anewscafe@gmail.com.

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is a recent North State transplant who feels completely at home here. He enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner are the owners of HawkMan Studios and the creators of Redding’s 2nd Saturday Art Hop.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar jacki g. says:

    Inspiring. Thanks, Adam!

  2. Avatar SistaKimba says:

    Awesome profiles in courage! Thanks Adam!

  3. Avatar Viki Twyman says:

    What an amazing role model for her children. I'm loving the stories Adam.

  4. Avatar Alan Ernesto Phillip says:

    GREAT reporting Adam!! Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta should be watching YOU go! The Ryan Family rocks!! Thank you and your team for keeping the light – and care – on the lingering disaster in Haiti… Be safe man…

  5. Avatar Troy Hawkins says:

    Amazing family. If only each and everyone of us dedicated ourselves to raising children with this much concern and dedication to making this planet a better place.

  6. Avatar Kenneth Ryan, KM says:

    It was I who sent the email to my sister and I need to clarify something. My sister uses her maiden name, Ryan, and her children, Jake and Rebekah Montz, use their father's.

    Members of the Order promise to serve "Our Lords, the Poor and Sick". It is in serving others that we receive Joy.

    Thanks for the glimpse into their time in Haiti.

  7. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    Thank you, Adam, for a layman's view of on-the-scene reporting. You offer that commodity that is so important in a reporter. I feel I can trust you to be my eyes and ears.

  8. Avatar Lenore Greene says:

    Great story! Katie and her children are amazing. I am honored to know them here at home. They do good things for others wherever they are.

  9. Avatar Ann Webber says:

    Thank you Adam. You have given us a broad perspective through a detailed observation. Katie and her children are an inspiration.

  10. Avatar Michael Dines says:

    Inspiring, honest, and hopeful … I too am honored to know the Ryans. Good things from very good people.