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‘Haiti still needs you’

Jeannie Gregory Editor

Rockford Police Officer and volunteer fighter Derek “Duke” Haan carries plenty of memories with him about his recent missionary trip to Haiti. He felt the calling to help those affected by the Jan. 12 massive earthquake and spent a week tending to the medical needs of the victims.

The Haitian people

Haan traveled and worked with the volunteers of the Haiti Needs You organization. Haan was invited by his cousin,  Tim Ryan , head of Haiti Needs You, to go with one of three medical teams traveling to Haiti.

On Jan. 28, with a first responder license in hand, hugs from his wife, Linda, and children Taylor, 14, and Abigail, 12, and the expectation of a lot of splints and wound care, Haan and the rest of the medical team jumped on the donated Amway jet and headed south to the devastation.

But Haan, or “Dr. Duke” as he was called, saw and learned a lot more than his imaginings had expected.

Haan was captured, first and foremost, by the spirit of the Haitian people. They are a culture of people who have known mostly poverty all their lives. A people who have lost more than an estimated 200,000 of their fellow countrymen – parents, siblings, children and friends – to the devastating affects of the earthquake.

And yet, each evening at the stroke of midnight they would gather and sing praise to God for bringing them another day. It is an inspirational memory for Haan.

Out of all the things he saw and heard in Haiti, it is the predominantly positive spirit of the Haitian people he carries with him.

Helping the injured

Once he hit the ground, the medical team quickly began triage – to line after line of the Haitian injured. Haan noted they were always patient and stood in lines continuously for hours a day and were always grateful for the help.

“In spite of all the carnage, the people of Haiti were happy to be alive and to have people that cared enough to help them in their time of need,” Haan said.

The medical team would set up shop outdoors. A “pharmacy” was placed on a table with containers and bottles of medication at the ready for dispensing under the blistering sun. Other days they were lucky and could set up inside.

Haan’s expectations of wound care were quickly shattered.

“I (found I) was going to be delivering primary care,” Haan said. “The doctors, nurses and support staff patiently guided me through what was needed and what was expected. I was constantly pestering the whole staff with questions. I cannot properly express my gratitude to them for everything they did for me.”

Haan found himself tending to the needs of those in the long lines. The complaints were a wide variety, and Haan used his past paramedic training and first responder license as his platform. He even found himself actually pulling teeth for some suffering from the pain of infection and decay.

Haan and the medical staff spent about seven hours a day and saw a staggering 6,500 to 7,000 patients the week they were there.

Keeping positive

Haan gives a lot of credit for the medical team’s success to their interpreters.

“The interpreters where phenomenal,” Haan said. “They helped so much with the language barrier and took great care of us.

” Junior, one of the interpreters, was driving down the road in the right lane and the force of the earthquake knocked his vehicle to the left lane. He said it felt like he had been hit by a Mack truck. When he finally was able to stop the vehicle he looked back and the right lane was crushed by a collapsed building.

Junior rushed home and found his house had been completely collapsed by the earthquake. He found a stone and took coal and wrote, “Junior was here and I am okay.

” He hoped his family would be able to see the message and had not perished in the home. He went back the next day and was looking at the carnage again and heard noise behind him. He turned and found his parents and siblings, all safe and sound.

Junior, however, lost multiple friends in the tragedy.

Haan held on to Junior’s positive spirit at the darkest of times. One such time was when he saw firsthand the devastation and destruction of the natural disaster.

“When Junior asked how I was doing after touring downtown Port-Au-Prince. I replied that it was a tough day and that I wasn’t up to talking about it yet. His reply was ‘always remember tomorrow is new day’ all the while with a smile on his face,” Haan said.

Lessons learned

A special memory was when the staff visited the Mother Teresa Orphanage, in Nan Pele. A baby had just been born and was only hours old when they arrived.

Haan remembers one of the medical team members, Sarah, summing it up perfectly.

“We’ve seen so much death, now we have a new life,” she said as she cradled the newborn.

He also remembers with great fondness an 18-month-old who was quickly eating the food that was provided at the orphanage. The toddler kept eating and staring at Haan until he was finished. Haan cradled the toddler and the child put his head on his shoulder and the little boy fell asleep. It was a healing time for Haan.

Haan’s giving nature does not come as a surprise to Rockford City Manager Michael Young.

“Duke is a pretty special guy,” Young said. “He is very selfless. When I heard he was planning to go, it didn’t even faze me because that is the kind of person Duke is. He is less worried about himself than he is trying to help the people of Haiti. That is just the kind of person Duke is. He is always about other people.”

Young sent eight cases of Rockford’s bottled water to Haiti and Haan said it was gratefully used.

Hopeful for the future

It was an earthquake of epic proportions in the way of lives taken, injuries suffered and structural damage. Haiti has been known historically for being one of the poorest countries in the world. The suffering the people of Haiti endured prior to the earthquake has been documented. In the month after the earthquake, their plight has been brought to the forefront with photographs and video of the carnage wrought by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

Haan feels blessed by the monumental spirit of the people of Haiti.

“I am humbled,” he said. “It is so hard to express how humbled I am. These people have nothing and yet they are still happy.”

“Haiti still needs you,” Haan continued. “I hope people don’t forget that.”

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