Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Article Written in Bermuda's "The Royal Gazette"

Bermuda-based doctor ended up running Haiti's airport::

By Sam Strangeways

Emergency room doctor Tiffany Keenan went to Haiti to tend to earthquake victims — and found herself running an airport.
The King Edward VII Memorial Hospital medic has just returned from five weeks in the Caribbean country, where she took charge of Jacmel Airport in the south.
Dr. Keenan told The Royal Gazette: "I thought I would do medicine. The Canadian disaster relief team was volunteering in Jacmel and I thought I would join them. But as soon as I saw what was going on in the airport, I knew I couldn't leave."
The 38-year-old Canadian had been to Haiti many times before the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit on January 12. She set up a charity called Haiti Village Health several years ago and has a clinic in the north, run by locals.
She arranged to stay with friends from the organisation Joy in Hope Ministries and flew into Jacmel Airport on a private flight a week after the earthquake.
As the aircraft neared land, she saw one of her friends directing planes on the ground. "He had taken over Jacmel Airport," said Dr. Keenan, who lives in Paget.
She explained that the mayor and airport authority ceded control as they were unable to cope with the sudden influx of flights bringing in supplies, aid workers and military personnel.
"It's a tiny airport," she said. "It had previously had two flights a week. We were getting at least 35 to 40 flights a day.
"It seemed completely unreal and we would look at one another at night and say: 'How can we be doing this?' Pure adrenalin keeps you going all day long."
Dr. Keenan, who speaks French and the local Creole, helped her friends at the airport for several days before they announced they were leaving and wanted her to take over.
Along with a midwife friend from Canada, she did just that, spending the next month greeting planes, organising medical evacuations, registering air arrivals, getting vital supplies onto the right trucks and helping aid workers get where they needed to go.
The women had to hire their own security — men with baseball bats — and act as immigration officers, noting down passengers' passport details in a notebook.
Their efforts did not go unnoticed — CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour visited the airport, as did film star and UN ambassador Angelina Jolie.
"I became good friends with air traffic control," said Dr. Keenan. "Those were the guys responsible for getting people on helicopters and up into the mountains. I knew I could go and do the [medical] work but if I didn't stay, who was going to stay and coordinate on the ground?"
As the weeks progressed, the Canadian military gradually began to take over airport operations, working with Dr. Keenan and volunteers she had managed to recruit.
As well as running the airport, she and her team collected data for a long-term health coordination project aimed at assessing the medical facilities of the whole island.
Although she got to treat just one patient while in Haiti this time — a road crash victim from Canada — Dr. Keenan has no regrets about the trip and plans to return there on March 18.
She now has 15 staff working for her in Haiti, as well as people helping in North America and volunteer Lianna Lambert in Bermuda.
"I'm very happy with what happened — this project exploded and it exploded in five weeks," said Dr. Keenan, who is originally from New Brunswick. "I ended up getting involved in so many things.
"For me, this was my dream job, even though it's not true emergency medicine. Taking over a whole airport was never what I planned to do. Even though I didn't touch patients, I know I was putting doctors in the right places to give the best medical care."
• Read more about Dr. Keenan's time in Haiti and her health coordination project at www.haitivillagehealth.blogspot.com. Donations to her charity can be made to Bank of Bermuda account number 010-871135-001.

No comments: