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American Academy of Ophthalmology
Dispatch from Haiti: Update on Local Eye M.D.s
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Mildred Olivier, MD | Midwest Glaucoma Center
Academy member Mildred Olivier has been traveling to Haiti two to three times per year since 1993.

Jan. 24, 2010

I went to the tent today and was unable to find any ophthalmologist at first. We searched for Kaz Soong, MD, a fellow member of the Academy Task Force on Haiti Recovery, and had just started to leave when we spotted him coming out of the tent. He was the only Eye M.D. working, but there might be a fellow ophthalmologist coming soon. I had spoken to Andrew Lee, MD, who had been coordinating the logistics of getting supplies and staff back and forth from Haiti.

Many of the Haitian ophthalmologists had lost their homes and clinics. A young ophthalmologist had died. She was married and had a son. The shock and reality of the story was great. Franz Large, MD, president of the Haitian Society of Ophthalmology was sleeping in the street with his family.

Today, I had spoken to Dr. Tavernne, who was fine. His office, not too far from the palace, would have certainly undergone some distress. One of his employees had died. Here to there is a short term and long term issue with ophthalmology. Certainly the task force will help to work on some of these issues. For now, just telling them that the Academy is really looking at how they can help evokes some glimmer of hope. Banks opened today, but schools are still out. The school of medicine was completely destroyed; the nursing school demolished. A country already affected by glaucomatous optic neuropathy at a younger age now will have a whole new etiology of ocular problems.

Haiti Ophthalmologists      Dr. Olivier and friends
Left: Maxime Coles, MD, and physicians at the Haitian General Hospital. Right: Drs. Bridgette Hudicourt, Olivier and Kaz Soong.

Even before the earthquake I had been returning to Haiti on my regularly scheduled January trip, along with Peter Kelly from Boston. Peter has been going to Milot, Haiti through the Crudem Organization for 17 years. He has packed his own laser and put together his own eye team. I had been a recent comer to Cap-Haitian (a city in northern Haiti), but Peter was gracious in allowing me to join his team and in giving me the latitude to obtain genetic samplings to send to Janey Wigg's lab in Boston to study the Haitian population. Boston has a large Haitian community, and Haiti seemed to show a more aggressive, advanced glaucomatous neuropathy.

Knowing there would be ocular facial trauma, and because many of the Haitian ophthalmologists were my friends, I was eager to go to Haiti. These were people who had lent me clothes once when I flew in to Haiti to give a glaucoma talk and my clothes stayed in Miami. I had enjoyed their hospitality on many medical missions in the past, and we would discuss the state of ophthalmology. I would see them briefly at the Annual Meeting for those who could afford to come.

My staff at work had been barraged with a ton of phone calls from patients, friends, colleagues, etc. They had stayed late for many nights, packing, weighing, repacking, rearranging and changing my plans as my itinerary changed. I hope that they know their frustration brought hope and life to many of the Haitian patients. Desperately needed antibiotics, IVs, monitoring devices, sutures and more were collected for the three places I would visit. Tomorrow, after surveying and helping in different areas, I will follow up with the three ophthalmic concentrations.

As of now, I am sleeping inside. Today there were no aftershocks. The door to the house tonight was closed but not locked. Last night it was left open and not closed. Every day for these Haitian people is one step closer to trying to get back to a routine. Church on Sunday will have a different meaning. We have a heightened awareness that all of us have one life -- we must choose how to live it. I look at the crumbled buildings that were once 11 stories high. Now they are flattened along with individuals who thought they might do something they wanted to get done tomorrow. I think I will do it today!

Sleeping Arrangements       Dr. Olivier with a Haitian Glaucoma Specialist
Left: Dr. Olivier's sleeping arrangements early in the trip. Right: A Haitian-American glaucoma specialist and Dr. Olivier.

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