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Rockport nurse helped Haiti’s people

Corpus Christi Caller TImes, 4/26/10

By Steven Alford
Corpus Christi Caller Times
April 26, 2010

She was among thousands sent via volunteer network

ROCKPORT — Flying into Haiti for the first time, Rockport resident Grace Nelson thought she had seen devastation before.

The 25-year nurse had spent years in the Peace Corps delivering aid around the world in the 1970s, including in war-torn northern Africa. But, she said what she saw in Haiti was something far different.

“I was shocked to see how bad everything really was,” Nelson said.

“Haiti was very poor to begin with and now it’s just been devastated by the earthquake.”

Nelson was in a group of 11 registered nurses who volunteered to travel to Haiti two weeks ago in response to a massive Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked the tiny Caribbean island.

It’s all part of continual volunteer assignments for nurses with the Registered Nurse Response Network, a volunteer program of National Nurses United organization.

In total, more than 12,000 nurses from across the country, and nearly 500 from Texas, have been sent to Haiti through the volunteer program, first launched in 2005 in response to the need from Hurricane Katrina.

“We have learned from our experience in Hurricane Katrina, that the kind of skills needed in the weeks and months following a disaster are nursing skills,” Bonnie Castillo, director of the Registered Nurse Response Network, said in a written statement.

“The kind of care that’s needed is everyday care, and things are exacerbated by the lack of medication and basic first aid.”

Nelson said after she heard about the earthquake on the radio she Googled anything she could find — Haiti, volunteer, nurse — and the volunteer program popped up.

All expenses are paid for the volunteers from donations to the organization.

The nurses in Nelson’s group were stationed at Hospital Sacre Coeur, a 73-bed facility and the largest private hospital in northern Haiti, about 80 miles north of Port-au-Prince in the town of Milot. Military style tents were lined up outside to hold the constant flow of patients.

“We came in about three months after the initial quake, so the acute phase was over,” Nelson said.

“We were treating people with serious injuries that had survived, or helping people receive their medications that they no longer have access to.”

A majority of the injuries Nelson saw were crushing injuries caused by collapsing buildings. As a result many earthquake victims had limbs amputated.

With each patient came a new story of lives altered forever by the earthquake.

Estimates of the number killed by the quake are in the hundreds of thousands, with more than a million survivors rendered homeless.

“You don’t want to cry about each story because there were so many that came through,” she said. “You just had to keep going.”

But there were moments of joy. Nelson recalled one injured man named Felix who thought he had lost his family when their house collapsed, only to have his wife locate him at the hospital through the Red Cross network.

“The whole tent cheered when he found out that she was alive,” she said. “We all gave him a standing ovation right there.”

Nelson said it will take many years for things to get back to normal in the area.

Now having been back from her 10-day volunteer trip, Nelson says she wakes up at night in her bed thinking she’s back in Haiti.

“It will take a long time to process what we saw over there.”

Helping Haiti

The Registered Nurse Response Network continues to send registered nurses to Haiti to aid earthquake victims. The next groups will be sent May 1. For information, visit the National Nurses United website at

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