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Home from Haiti for Latter-day Saint volunteers

"No one will ever know the full measure of the good they have accomplished," said Steve Studdert concerning the Utah Hospital Task Force — a 125-person team of doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, building contractors and interpreters. The group returned from the desolate remnants of earthquake-stricken Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Feb. 12, after a 16-day relief mission.

Steven Studdert, center, speaks with John Nichols and Erin McBride, members of the executive team of the Utah Hospital Task Force, as they prepare to depart from Salt Lake City to Haiti on a 16-day relief mission.
Steven Studdert, center, speaks with John Nichols and Erin McBride, members of the executive team of the Utah Hospital Task Force, as they prepare to depart from Salt Lake City to Haiti on a 16-day relief mission. Photo: Tom Smart, Deseret News

Although not Church sponsored, the task force consisted primarily of Latter-day Saint volunteers, including 75 Creole-speaking returned missionaries.

Despite experiencing emotional and physical strain from working among seemingly relentless need, Brother Studdert, the chairman of the task force, said, "Each of the teams served tirelessly and with extraordinary selfless dedication while we were in Haiti, and they were each truly unbelievable."

Volunteer Lisa Daines smiles with Haitian children at one of the makeshift clinics put together by the Utah Hospital Task Force in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Medical teams often treated patients in rudimentary conditions.
Volunteer Lisa Daines smiles with Haitian children at one of the makeshift clinics put together by the Utah Hospital Task Force in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Medical teams often treated patients in rudimentary conditions. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen

While there the medical teams provided healing care in an exceptionally harsh environment. They treated wounds, set broken bones, delivered babies, tended to illness and infection, and performed amputations — sometimes along roadsides and in refugee camps.

A Church meetinghouse in Haiti has turned into a refuge for members whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake.
A Church meetinghouse in Haiti has turned into a refuge for members whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen
Utah Hospital Task Force volunteer Dr. Brad Arnold provides care for an infant while her mother looks on.
Utah Hospital Task Force volunteer Dr. Brad Arnold provides care for an infant while her mother looks on. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen

Brother Studdert said that their medical professionals provided key leadership services at three overwhelmed Port-au-Prince hospitals. Utah Hospital Task Force doctors were put in charge of two main departments; one nurse was made director of nursing for a several-hundred bed hospital; and one physician became the medical director for that hospital for the duration of their stay in the country.

Rod Miller, a member of the Utah Hospital Task Force, dances to entertain Haitian people at one of the improvised clinics in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Such entertainment helped many Haitians experience a moment of normalcy.
Rod Miller, a member of the Utah Hospital Task Force, dances to entertain Haitian people at one of the improvised clinics in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Such entertainment helped many Haitians experience a moment of normalcy. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen

An interpreter was assigned to each medical team. The force of returned-missionary interpreters became one of their "most praised assets."

"They were so totally invaluable in translating for doctors and nurses and comforting frightened patients," Brother Studdert said.

The Church's Leogane meetinghouse in Haiti has turned into a refuge for members whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake.
The Church's Leogane meetinghouse in Haiti has turned into a refuge for members whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen
Justin Bowen holds one of many orphans visited during the Utah Hospital Task Force mission to Haiti.
Justin Bowen holds one of many orphans visited during the Utah Hospital Task Force mission to Haiti. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen

In addition to interpreting for medical teams, the task force interpreters were called upon to interpret at U.S. Army sentry points, to accompany U.S. Army ambulances, advise U.S. Navy evacuation helicopters, accompany food convoys and assist Disaster Medical Assistance Teams among other interpreter duties requested by the U.N., USAID, World Health Organization, Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services and others.

"Where military and police [feared] food riots, these gentle former missionaries, with their language and cultural understanding and their great smiles, instantly calmed the crowds and brought peace and order," Brother Studdert said.

The Church's Leogane meetinghouse in Haiti has turned into a refuge for members whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake.
The Church's Leogane meetinghouse in Haiti has turned into a refuge for members whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen

The task force construction workers were also hard at work; first in assisting the Helping Hands for Haiti assess and repair their buildings, and then in helping the U.S. Army to assess the structural status of several facilities. Under the direction of the local stake presidents and priesthood quorum leaders, they also inspected several members' homes.

One of the 141 orphans approved for departure waits patiently aboard a U.S.-bound plane.
One of the 141 orphans approved for departure waits patiently aboard a U.S.-bound plane. Photo: Photo courtesy Justin Bowen

Another important part of the Utah Hospital Task Force mission objective was to assist in the clearance of orphans destined for American families. After meetings with Haiti's minister of social services, the minister of foreign affairs, the first lady, the prime minister and the president of Haiti, as well as multiple meetings with the U.S. ambassador and other U.S. officials, they were able to clear 141 orphans to the United States. Nearly half of the orphans were headed to Latter-day Saint homes.

Upon departing for the return to Utah, the task force donated remaining supplies. Medical equipment was given to local hospitals and the Healing Hands for Haiti clinic, building tools were given to stake presidents for members to use in their home repair and hundreds of tents were provided for Church members in need, including a member of the Haiti Mission Presidency operating an orphanage.

Brother Studdert said many task force workers upon departure gave their cash and clothing to destitute Haitians, especially members. In the Army convoy heading to the airport to return home, some workers gave away their shoes to Haitians who had none. One elderly Haitian man who had lost his only daughter and her family in the earthquake could not read his only book, the Bible. One task force EMT gave him his reading glasses.

"The trip was grueling and exhausting, yet simultaneously a humbling spiritual feast, as we felt the hand of the Lord in our labors and witnessed the resilient spirit in the beautiful faces of the Haitian people and heard their expressions of faith in Jesus Christ," Brother Studdert said.

For example, an old, injured woman told him, "I have no food, I have no home, I have no family — they were all killed in the earthquake — but I have God, so I am OK."

"We could not have done this without the Lord's direct help," Brother Studdert said. "Heavenly Father has blessed this effort beyond expectations."

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