Local Doctor-World Volunteer

Dr. James Smith

Dr. James Smith

Dr. James Smith of Prowers Medical Center and his wife, Cassie, recently returned from a week’s trip to Haiti this past January, but you won’t find them tanned from afternoons on the beach.  They and several dozen volunteers spent their time at a medical facility, treating patients in Haiti’s third largest city, Gonaives.   

“We’ve been going there for about 13 years now, first as a program from our church in Pueblo, and more lately as an independent venture, supported by 501C3 donations,” Dr. James Smith explained.  He said at first, it was just a group of medical providers bringing duffel bags filled with their clothes and medicines to a church in Haiti where they’d look after patients.  The doctor said there were no facilities available where he could perform operations for the first few years.  The group visited the local hospital that had been wiped out by a wall of water from a recent hurricane.  Saint Mary Corwin Hospital in Pueblo began a hospital adoption program.   

“The hospital had a basement full of old, but serviceable equipment which was donated to the hospital in Gonaives,” Smith said.  He added that the hospital, the only one in a city of 300,000 is about the size of PMC, and was storm damaged several years ago.  Smith said a separate clinic was eventually constructed with some financial help from St. Mary Corwin.  After several years, the clinic added a second story.  St. Mary Corwin, like others in the state, revised their finances during the financial crunch several years ago and asked Smith and his group if they would work under a non-profit status if the hospital assisted with the legal part of the new set-up.  He said, “Since 2010 we became Health 4 Haiti under our non profit status. We all sleep outside in tents for the week, but we are able to conduct examinations and operations in the clinic,” he stated, adding, “This last trip, we saw 1,000 patients of all ages and conducted 45 surgeries of all types from the clinic, but we also visited some outlying areas for several days.”  Carrie Smith, who is a substitute teacher in Lamar, handles the group’s logistics for the annual visit, from food and lodging to making sure everyone has passports and shots and group plane tickets for the week long stay.  Smith said plans for the January visits begin in August. “We conduct a couple of briefing meetings to let everyone know what’s involved with the trip and what will be expected of them,” he added. 

“We’re open to volunteers who want to accompany us, and that includes people with no medical training,” Smith said, “but we actively will recruit those with the medical background we need to fill out our medical providers.”  All the donations to the program, known as ‘Health 4 Haiti’ go to purchasing supplies and equipment.  Dr. Smith said people pay their own way, about $1,800 each for the round trip and meals for the visit.  “Many non-medical personnel are college students and have often been sons or daughters of the doctors and nurses who make the trip.  For many people this has been a life-changing event, once they see what we do,” Smith said.   

Haiti is located off the edge of Cuba in the Caribbean, and is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  Smith explained that once the United Nations began sending peace-keeping troops years ago, there has been less risk for visitors for the past six years.  He’s optimistic about continuing these journeys as the facilities are starting to improve for the population.  After the last severe storm, the hospital had to cease operations at its location and move into a warehouse to treat patients and has been at that site for the past five years.  Smith said the storms brought worldwide attention to the Haitians plight so donations, many from Canada, have helped them to start building a new hospital. 

“We conduct some surgeries, but we also deal with a lot of disease common to the tropics such as malaria, typhoid fever, Aids, TB and cholera.  Prowers Medical Center also donated several thousand dollars of medicines to the annual venture this year,” Smith stated.  He said the donations have continued to grow to the point that Health 4 Haiti now rents a storage bunker at the Pueblo Chemical Depot.  Once the materials have been compiled for shipping, they’re sent to Project Cure in Denver where they’re stored in shipping containers for transport to Haiti.  

The doctor has been general surgeon at the local hospital for almost a year, coming to Lamar from Pueblo, although Smith grew up in La Junta.  He’ll soon be on the road again.  “I’m a Lt. Colonel in the National Reserve and I’ve been called up to spend four months in Afghanistan beginning this summer,” he said.  That military service has had him traveling the world, spending three years in Germany and several tours of duty in Bosnia in a trauma ward.  “I won’t be on the front lines, but I’ll be treating those soldiers who have,” he explained. “I will work with surgeons who deal with arm and limb wounds, while as a general surgeon, I’ll be treating central wounds for the soldiers.”  

Health 4 Haiti has a website at www.health4haiti.com.  For those who would like to volunteer their time or make donations to the non-profit organization, call 719-251-7294.

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: ChurchescommunityEducationFeaturedHealthLamar


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