Rich Pickett is SDSU’s CIO and a licensed pilot for 32 years. He is volunteering his time to fly relief flights to earthquake ravaged Haiti and will be sharing his experiences here as often as he is able …
After we left the hotel for the hospital, we stopped near this woman’s home so that the medical team could do a home visit. Their dedication to the care of the people was incredible. I saw this lovely woman sweeping the dirt on the walkway to her house and asked to take her photograph. We communicated by gestures and smiles. It was only one of many images, of the Haitians trying to recover their lives and continue to the future.
We visited the Caye Jacmel Hospital in the morning, one of several clinics/hospitals in the Jacmel area. It was overflowing with patients waiting their turn, and those in the makeshift wards in tents. It was amazing that the medical staff could do wonders in such a basic setting. We discussed how they processed X-ray film and learned that the best way was to dry the films in the sun since they didn’t have the usual equipment. We had delivered a C-arm X-Ray machine to a hospital in Port Au Prince on a previous flight and I wished we had another one to deliver to them. Perhaps on another trip we can locate one for their hospital.
While waiting for the medical team to prepare their patients for the trip to Jacmel, I found a spot with weak wireless Internet access next to a school. Searching for the strongest signal I was able to sit and catch up with campus e-mail and write blog entries.
Along with another Pilatus from Atlanta, we were planning on taking patients to the States for treatment. One of the patients had a cervical spine fracture and flew in the other plane with Scott, who was the owner, while two children with severe hip injuries and infections, flew back to Florida with us. They quickly accepted an offer to join me in the cockpit, even though it was evident they were in considerable pain some of the time. Roseline followed my every move until she finally fell asleep in the seat. Odileson has been flying previously and then joined us in the cockpit, using his crutches to help walk up the aisle.
We arrived at Fort Lauderdale Executive airport and began the process through U.S. Customs and Immigration. While Fort Lauderdale had been relatively easy, the personnel at this airport had not previously processed ‘medical paroles’ and it took 2 hours to clear, after strong affirmations by Kathy, others, and myself.
Before leaving for Philadelphia, and the cold, Odileson came up to me in the cockpit and proudly showed the stickers we had given them. Roseline then asked me for a pen. Even though I knew they were encountering pain, they beamed.
I continued my flight planning for the next leg, receiving updates on the airport condition in Philadelphia since many of the runways were still closed. Sueanne Campion, and her team at Banyan Air located at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE) were outstanding as always and helped us get ready to depart. Jane and I would leave from there to fly home so we were also packing the plane for the return trip. I knew it would be cold and the first time our Haitian friends would see snow, so Sueanne quickly found some extra blankets for everyone.
Before we departed, the kids gave us a piece of paper. Affixed to the paper were some of the stickers we gave them, and handwritten on it was ‘I Love You’. We took that note and placed it on the control wheel. We titled it ‘A Note from Odileson & Roseline – Inspiration’ and it has a special place in our hearts.
We had headwinds for most of the flight, however as a Life Guard flight, the FAA Air Traffic Control gave us every consideration to make our flight as short as possible. I turned off the cabin lights so everyone could sleep, I knew they would be busy upon our landing.
Scott, piloting his Pilatus, landed before us and was in the hanger. We helped them off load his passenger, the man with a cervical fracture. The medical staff had advised us that a wrong movement of only a few millimeters would paralyze him. He had been securely bound to a backboard for the entire journey. A journey that had started in Caye Jacmel over 12 hours ago. We were all relieved when he was loaded into the ambulance. Our kids were next, as another ambulance arrived and we were able to lift them into the waiting vehicle along with their parents. I handed them Pilot Logbooks that I can signed in my role as Flight Instructor, commemorating their flight time as my co-pilots. I hope someday to see them flying airplanes!
As we closed up the Pilatus in the cold weather, it seems like Haiti was a long way away, and we contemplated the number of people back on the island of Hispaniola that still needed help. We were able to help just a few people with this flight, however it was an important step that was worth the efforts. Our friends now have extensive treatments ahead of them. ‘Our’ kids have significant gangrene and other problems, and only time will tell if they will be okay.