The country of Haiti is in dire straits after a massive 7.2 magnitude earthquake left over 1,200 people dead, marking the second natural disaster in just over ten years. A 2010 quake killed thousands of residents and displaced millions more.
John Herzenberg, director of pediatric orthopedics at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, MD and his wife, Merrill Chaus, a registered nurse with a master’s in international public health, have a long history of supporting the Haitian people. Chaus recently announced she’s getting ready to return to Haiti to help with medical care, but this could be her most dangerous mission yet.
Married to Haiti
Herzenberg and Chaus are part of a small team of doctors and nurses that have been traveling to Haiti ever since the 2010 earthquake. Team Siani, or Ekip Sinai as they say in Haiti, has helped perform dozens of surgeries over the last decade, including straightening crooked bones, realigning former broken bones, repairing club feet, and knitting up torn knee cartilage.
“Our focus is orthopedic surgery for children,” Herzenberg said of their work back in 2018. “We treat lots of kids with club foot, cerebral palsy, fractures and other birth defects. All for free.”
The pair has been volunteering internationally for over 20 years. They traveled to Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Uganda after starting with Operation Rainbow in San Francisco. After multiple missions, they decided to lead their own team of providers on a mission to Haiti.
“We did that for 10 years, going mainly to Nicaragua, until the Sandinista government got back into power, and they did not want American doctors coming in anymore,” Chaus said. “So, in 2010, when the earthquake happened in Haiti, we were closest. I went first by myself without a team about two weeks after to see what the situation was on the ground and if they could use our help.”
Another Round of Devastation
The people of Haiti are experiencing déjà vu in the worst way possible now that they are experiencing their second major earthquake. Just a short while into the recovery effort, Tropical Depression Grace poured rain over the country, leading to historic flooding.
Herzenberg and Chaus were shocked when they heard the news last week.
“I can’t believe this is happening again, and they never seem to get a break between earthquakes, hurricanes,” Chaus said.
“Our friend, Dr. Scott Nelson, is working there tirelessly and he needs a lot of help from all of the crush injuries that are coming in from the earthquake,” she added.
“They are overwhelmed right now, just being inundated with injuries one after another, and they all need to have surgery, most of them,” John Herzenberg said.
They quickly decided to roll up their sleeves for another volunteer mission in Haiti, but John can’t go because he’s needed for surgery in Baltimore. However, the hospital is sending supplies on his behalf.
“We’re sending medicine, surgical equipment, drapes and gowns and gloves. I texted my buddies and said, ‘What do you need?’ They said, ‘Size 8 gloves and No. 2 nylon sutures,'” John Herzenberg said.
Chaus will have to venture to Haiti on her own at a time of uncertainty.
“In order to make a difference, you have to be in for the long haul. You can’t just parachute in and parachute out. It’s about supporting not just the individual, but the whole health care system,” she said.
John Herzenberg admits he’s nervous for his wife’s safety, considering the wave of political instability brought on by the devastation.
“The unfortunate reality is that street gangs are controlling the city, so just the act of getting from the airport to the hospital is a real challenge because there are roadblocks, kidnappings, ransom,” John Herzenberg said.
But Merrill isn’t backing down. Her connection to the Haitian people runs deep and she can’t look away in their time of need.
“I think God will provide and I have complete faith that the people there, that the gangs, everybody, comes together at times like this, so I don’t think anyone will give us a hard time,” she said. She added that her commute to the hospital could take an hour or three, depending on the condition of the roads.
We applaud Chaus for heading to Haiti during this difficult time and wish her the best of luck on her trip.