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Nurses helping to heal Haiti’s wounds

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Two Winnipeg nurses recently returned from a life-changing volunteer trip to Haiti.

Caitlin Makodanski — a registered nurse who works in trauma surgery at Health Sciences Centre — and Kelsey Penner, a Canadian Forces nursing officer who also works at HSC — spent eight days working with Project Medishare in Port-au-Prince.

In light of the earthquake in Haiti two years ago, there is still a critical need for medical treatment in the Caribbean nation.

Penner said the facility they volunteered at is the only trauma and critical care hospital in Haiti. Due to the high volume of patients, Haitian staff continue to be joined by international medical volunteers, including physicians, nurses and rehabilitation therapists.

Makodanski said the pair’s main role was providing nursing care in an intensive care unit and emergency department.

"At times, it was necessary to take on more the role of educator and mentor with the Haitian nurses," said Makodanski, who lives in St. Vital.

"It was stressed to us when we go there that the hospital’s goals had shifted from relief mode after the earthquake and we were striving to create a more sustainable environment with the Haitian staff."

Penner, who lives in Westwood, said the whirlwind trip was an invaluable experience on several levels.

"After being on the ground for only a couple of hours and receiving a brief orientation, our team began a hectic week, treating hundreds of patients for everything from traumatic injuries to typhoid fever," she said.

"We also quickly learned how to adapt to the Haitian culture and provide care in a multilingual environment, as most of our patients spoke Creole as their mother tongue. We also had the experience of living in camp-like accommodations right outside the back door of the emergency room and quickly learned to appreciate the comfort of an ice-cold shower."

To help make the trip a reality, the pair fundraised more than $1,200. They also took some much-needed supplies along.

"We took two overstuffed duffle bags, have collected items such as medical supplies, kids’ clothing, sheets and pillowcases," Penner said.

Makodanski said the experience has significantly changed her perspective of nursing in Canada.

"I am much more appreciative of everything we have available to us here in Canada. The Haitian nurses were some of the most resourceful nurses I’ve ever met. When care needed to be given, they got it done the best way they could with what they had," she said.

Makodanski was also impacted by the gratitude of the Haitian staff, which fostered a sense of community.

"When it came to answering questions and interpreting, everyone was so helpful and understanding. They were very appreciative of our help and presence there. It made me feel very humble."

For more information, visit www.projectmedishare.org.

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