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Air Force medics team with 'Real Hope for Haiti'; assist hundreds of patients

Haitian children recovering from multiple diseases associated with poor socio-economic conditions are treated and returned to health at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Many of these children are suffering from kwashiorkor, a protein-calorie malnutrition that can be cured through gradually improving and balancing the child’s diet. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

Haitian children recovering from multiple diseases associated with poor socio-economic conditions are treated and returned to health at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Many of these children are suffering from kwashiorkor, a protein-calorie malnutrition that can be cured through gradually improving and balancing the child’s diet. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Maggie Pelszynski, 24th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron (EMEDS), examines a young Haitian boy in a tent set up at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Airmen from EMEDS are assisting the rescue center by providing medical care to Haitians in need after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12.  (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Maggie Pelszynski, 24th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron (EMEDS), examines a young Haitian boy in a tent set up at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Airmen from EMEDS are assisting the rescue center by providing medical care to Haitians in need after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

U.S. Air Force SMSgt. Antonio Rita, 24th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron (EMEDS), stitches together a gash in the thumb of a local Haitian at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Airmen from EMEDS are assisting the rescue center by providing medical care to Haitians in need after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

U.S. Air Force SMSgt. Antonio Rita, 24th Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron (EMEDS), stitches together a gash in the thumb of a local Haitian at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Airmen from EMEDS are assisting the rescue center by providing medical care to Haitians in need after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

U.S. Air Force SSgt. Danielle Miranda, Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron (EMEDS), cares for the foot of an injured Haitian man at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Airmen from EMEDS are assisting the rescue center by providing medical care to Haitians in need after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

U.S. Air Force SSgt. Danielle Miranda, Expeditionary Medical Support Squadron (EMEDS), cares for the foot of an injured Haitian man at the Real Hope For Haiti Rescue Center in Cazale, Haiti. Airmen from EMEDS are assisting the rescue center by providing medical care to Haitians in need after the devastating earthquake hit Haiti Jan. 12. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Cody Chiles/Released)

CAZALE, Haiti -- Two hundred people slept on the road Feb 24th outside a plain white, two story building. Some clutched infants, others held makeshift bandages over cuts and lesions while several coughed in the dusty air. The unremarkable building sits six miles into the hills off of a main road in an agricultural area outside Port-au-Prince. Inside, Air Force medics and volunteers from "Real Hope for Haiti" are aiding the people of Haiti during their remarkable comeback from the Jan. 12 earthquake.

"Before the earthquake, we were seeing approximately 200 patients per day," said Lori Moise, nurse at the clinic and daughter of the founders of the organization, Mr. and Mrs. Davis Zachary. "Since January, we've seen the number of people in need of medical care increase dramatically -- that's why the help of these Air Force doctors is so vital, it allows us to increase the number of people we serve to more than 500 per day."

The 24th Expeditionary Medical Squadron has been operating a hospital in Port-au-Prince for several weeks, assisting Haitians in the city and providing follow-on care to patients from the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship anchored offshore. But as the need in the capitol city has gone down, so the Air Force medics expanded their reach and partnered with non-governmental organizations to assist as many people as possible.

"Airmen are lining up to volunteer in Cazale because they believe in this mission," said Col. John Mansfield, the 24th EMEDS commander. "By working together with NGOs like Real Hope for Haiti, we're able to provide high-quality medical care to a larger population. And of course, it's nice to be able to reach beyond the walls of our EMEDS facility to go where the need is."

The Zachary family has been serving the Cazale community since 1994, when the couple moved to Haiti to devote their lives to their faith, nurture children in need and provide care to Haitian citizens who normally would not have access to medical services. Since then, the Real Hope for Haiti house has become a destination for poor families from the rural areas surrounding Cazale.

"We've had people walk 10 hours just to see a doctor," Moise said. Air Force medical personnel working at the NGO clinic are able to treat between 70 and 90 patients per day. At home station they treat approximately 25 patients per day. For the Airmen volunteering, it's a long trip to the clinic, followed by a long day of treating patients -- but they look forward to every moment, said Lt. Janelle Herek, a nurse from Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

"It's incredibly rewarding to do this kind of work," Lt. Herek said. "You're making a difference in people's lives that can last a lifetime."

The Zachary family knows first-hand how a small dose of treatment can be lifesaving -- Moise's family clinic has seen nearly 100,000 patients.

"To a person who is malnourished (as many Haitians are), even a minor cough or cold can be life-threatening," she said. Many of the services provided at Real Hope for Haiti are the types of treatments people in the United States take for granted such as wound care, prenatal care, asthma, pediatrics and women's health. Air Force doctors treated a wound on a woman's foot caused by untreated diabetes, an infected cut on a man's thumb, a 1-year-old infant weighing only five pounds, and patients with gastrointestinal pain.

"All of these conditions have the same root cause: poverty," Moise explained. "Anyone could have been born here. It's hard enough before the earthquake; now it's like adding hardship upon hardship to people who are already struggling.

Years ago, the Real Hope for Haiti team developed a kit to help poor mothers through the birthing process. To women in the developed country, the bag of cotton balls, razor blade, alcohol, string and gauze might seem rudimentary, but to mothers in Haiti, it's a life-saving kit for their babies.

"Mothers were giving birth to their children and then using glass or other sharp objects to cut the umbilical cord. We were seeing a lot of cases of tetanus in infants so we introduced this kit as a simple way for mothers to cut the cord, clean off their baby and get to our clinic as fast as possible," said Moise. "Before and after childbirth, we provide a schedule of appointments to help mothers through the critical pregnancy and first year of their baby's life."

In the waiting area, Erneso Jorilius, a 20-year-old Haitian man, is holding his 8-day-old daughter. Like the more than half-dozen men and boys in the clinic today, he's here alone as the girl's mother is recovering from childbirth. Infants in the father's arms range from three days to 9 months old. There's also an 85-year-old woman waiting with the group, her age a rarity in a country where the average life expectancy is just 47.

Across the courtyard, more than 30 toddlers are eating breakfast. Their bowls are filled with a sweet, mixture similar to peanut-butter and fruit. The food is called "Medika Mamba" and provides every essential vitamin and nutrient a growing child needs -- in just eight weeks, a malnourished child's body is transformed for less than $100. The locally grown and produced Medika Mamba provides a job for many local farmers and "works miracles" Colonel Mansfield said.

"Just eight tablespoons can bring a child back from the brink of starvation," he said as he picked up a thin, but happy child. Next to him is a baby who's been at Real Hope for Haiti for some time -- the baby is plump and smiling, eagerly eating his bowl of Medika Mamba. "We just have to reach them in time," the Colonel added.

The Real Hope for Haiti family believes their ability to carry on helping others is a product of their deep faith, but they're quick to point out that they believe in "living" their values rather than "preaching" them.

"We're nothing special, we believe our life is richer when we share our gifts with others," Moise said. "The people we see here are appreciative of everything. Food, water, soap...every breath is precious."

For the Airmen of the 24th EMEDS, the same ethos guides their actions. "Volunteering in this community, reaching beyond the borders of our clinic in the city and using our time to help others is what 'service before self' is all about," Colonel Mansfield said.

Editor's Note: The Air Force doctors featured in this story are deployed to Port-au-Prince for the next three months. To hear more about their efforts to help the people of Haiti visit www.12af.acc.af.mil.

For more information on Real Hope for Haiti visit: http://haitirescuecenter.wordpress.com.

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