[photopress:Haiti4_310.jpg,thumb,pp_style] By Danielle Ellis
When the 7.0 earthquake leveled much of Haiti on January 12, 2010, charitable people all over the world mobilized to help. LDS people, always at the forefront of disaster relief, sprang into action. Thousands of monetary donations poured directly into LDS Church Headquarters; the Church, through LDS Charities, provided tents, food, propane stoves and solar panels, teams of doctors and nurses, and clinical social workers. But the needs were obviously huge, and many people knew they could do more to help.
Steve Studdert, a two-time stake president and veteran of the White House during three presidential administrations, stepped forward. He had received a call from the Under Secretary General of the United Nations, asking for help from returned missionaries who could speak French/Creole. President Studdert began circulating an email, and then placed his plea on Meridian Magazine, where he is a regular columnist, asking for volunteers to go to Haiti for a three-week mission of mercy.
Within a day President Studdert received over 4,000 emails of people wanting to help. 850 people were qualified, and 125 were selected. The group included 21 doctors, 22 nurses, 30 medical support, 49 construction workers and 70 French/Creole speakers.
Their group would be known as the Utah Hospital Task Force. The volunteers were warned in advance that the trip would be extremely demanding, with poor conditions that were worsening by the hour. They were undeterred.
One of the participants was Doug Simister, of the Monte Cristo Ward, Las Vegas Sandstone Stake. Brother Simister joined the group as a translator, having served his mission in Haiti from 1989-1991. As an orthodontist, he also had the ability to help with wound care, EMT care, and dental care. His skills were all put to good use, as was his compassionate heart.
The Utah Hospital Task Force arrived on January 29th, just over two weeks after the quake. “It was eye-opening to see the amount of injuries that people were dealing with—and not complaining, not cursing God,” Brother Simister says. “There is a Creole saying that translates to ‘I’m here from the will of God.’ Whatever God’s will is, I’m here.
They are such humble people.”
As he expected, with so much trauma and endless needs, the volunteers were called on to do anything and everything they could to help. Brother Simister spent several days doing EMT care and wound care, some days in a post-operative tent, and some days going out into the tent cities to care for anyone with any problem. “We ended up seeing so many people. As we set up a place to work in the tent cities, people found out we were there and we would have 300-400 people line up,” he says.
He also spent four days with another dentist, Joel Blake, doing extractions and general
dentistry care. “We were working at one of the LDS chapels, and had lines of 50-60 people waiting each day.”
“While we were there we saw everything from kids with colds to STD’s. We removed cancerous tumors and bad teeth. A lot of lives will be saved because of our time there.”
Brother Simister recorded on his blog that he spent a day caring for girls with amputations. “I just wanted to cry for both of them. 20 of the 25 patients we saw today had lost a limb…. As I spoke to them and comforted them today my prayers went up to our Heavenly Father asking Him to comfort them. I only wish I could do more. When I asked the girls how they were, they responded, ‘I have nothing left but my faith in Jesus Christ.’ I knew at that moment what I am doing here in Haiti is what Christ would be doing if He were here in person.”
“I felt blessed to be a part of the group,” he concludes. “I got what I expected: a service that helped me as much as it helped them.” As a testament to the gentle and grateful spirit of the Haitian people, in the midst of such devastation, they gave thanks. “The Haitians would just walk up to us on the road, to thank us for helping them in their time of need.”
“This was an extraordinary effort by so many people. In my heart I just knew I needed to be down there helping somehow. If I had the opportunity I’d do it all over again.”
Doug Simister’s blog about the experience is helpingoutinhaiti.blogspot.com. He has a link for Healing Hands for Haiti, a way to donate for medical care.
Meridian Magazine has extensive coverage of the Utah Hospital Task Force. Their website is ldsmag.com.
To find out more about the Church’s work, or to donate through the Church, visit lds.org.