On Jan. 21 2010, Dr. Mike Kiernan stood on stage in Casella Theatre in the Fine Arts Center speaking at Castleton’s convocation to a room full of attentive college students. Less than a month later though, Kiernan found himself in a very different environment, one in which he was no longer surrounded by hundreds of Castleton students, but hundreds of wounded Haitian citizens. As the earthquake violently shook Haiti on Jan. 12 2012, just miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince, much of the city fell to ruins. Thousands of people lay trapped in the rubble and 200,000 to 250,000 were dead. Many of the assets needed to respond to such an earthquake were destroyed, including both the Habitat for Humanity’s headquarters and several major hospitals. According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank, the cost of recovery could be between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion.
Luckily, people like Kiernan lined up to help. He raised $20,000 through his fundraiser “Porter for Haiti,” for supplies to help treat patients once there.
His story began in 1990 as a fourth year medical student, when he traveled to Haiti through the “Teach for America” program.
“It was an extraordinary experience for a number of reasons,” said Kiernan. “When you are a fourth-year medical student, you are about to become an MD and ahead of you is residency training. This type of experience provides you with the practice you’ll need for the rest of your life.”
In Haiti for the first time, while both young and inexperienced, Kiernan worked as an ophthalmologist, giving at least 600 eye exams times a day.
“A lot of people go from the halls of the academy to the halls of the hospital without ever experiencing parts of the world like Haiti, where there is extreme poverty and very little infrastructure. It was a long day and very burdensome, but a great experience,” he said.
Kiernan currently owns a family practice in Middlebury, Vt., working as an ER doctor. Since 1990 he has visited Haiti sporadically, his last visit in 1997. But none of these experiences can compare to his last.
Armed with $7,000 worth of medications, Kiernan made his way once again to Milot, Haiti, located on the northern part of the country. Milot, a small palm tree-lined town with a lot of activity, crowded with donkey ox carts, motorcycles and trucks, was left untouched by the earthquake.
But even Milot had to face vast changes to adapt to the needs of the country, and L’hospital la de Sacre Coeur was willing to take on the challenge.
“Over the years L’hospital la de Sacre Coeur has become a major referral center. The hospital was intact at a time where many things were destroyed,” said Kiernan. “In the two weeks following the disaster, it was able to ramp up, going from a 60 beds to 400.
“The hospital had to expand to envelop two schools, and many surgical tents had been added. The people actually did not want to leave the tent, because, you know, if there was an earthquake the tent wouldn’t fall on them.”
By the time Kiernan visited Haiti, the state was in need for acute orthopedic and other surgical and rehabilitation care – including the need for prosthetics and antibiotics.
“Some people had extremity injuries, with houses falling on them, while others were stable and just waiting for external fixates — casts, etc.-and waiting to go home. Others had amputations and were having issues with their wounds,” he said.
But the $7,000 worth of medicine that Kiernan came armed with helped drastically, providing hundreds of Haitians with the ability to function relatively normal.
“We brought medicine like antibiotics and morphine, and because of these contributions we were able to alleviate a lot of pain. Many people in Haiti, they are very tough and durable. But with amputations it is really important to have a drug like morphine.”
Kiernan still has $15,000 worth of contributions left from his fund-raiser, which he plans to spend on prosthetics and occupational therapy.
But there is still work to do. To send a donation, send money to Porter Hospital, 115 Porter Dr., Middlebury, Vt.
“They have endured such unimaginable losses, yet they have such gratefulness and gratitude, and a great appreciation for the U.S. of America for their response to this tragedy,” he said.