A Mission For Haiti
Report Submitted by: Dr. E. Steven Moriconi
In January 2010, as we all know, a devastating earthquake struck the island of Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of seconds, laying waste to homes and businesses and affecting countless of the living, both in Haiti and abroad. Watching those scenes of destruction, horrific injuries, and mass casualties so graphically shown, I knew the time had come to really act, to get off my couch. I was sure, as an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, that there must be need of my services. The weeks before leaving on that first trip were filled with anxiety, planning, and pleas to my colleagues and dental suppliers for materials to bring with me. I assumed I would have no instruments, and so brought my own. I was to be assigned to a dental clinic in Christianville, about an hour outside of the capital, Port au Prince.
I finally arrived at the chaotic, disorganized, and very hot airport, and was taken to the staging grounds (a converted school). All through these first days, I absorbed the overwhelming magnitude of human suffering surrounding all of us there. I felt that what I was doing was just a small drop in the bucket, but so necessary to those patients we could help. Daily, at 6 a.m. I would be driven with other healthcare teams to our designated points of assignment. After 2 hours of driving through smoke-filled streets, pitted and rutted highways, and finally a last mile on no road whatsoever, I arrived at the dental facility. What I found there was surprising: a fully intact and functional dental clinic! It had survived the earthquake with minimal damage. We were immediately put to work, with lines of people stretching through the waiting area. In those 5 days, I did more oral surgery than in a month at home, and the heat, exhaustion, and discomforts quickly faded into the background.
My translator was a young man who had been hired by the school for a couple of months to help us while seeing patients. He had just enrolled in medical school in the Dominican Republic before the earthquake but had to return home to his destroyed house, missing and deceased family members, and the horrors of living in a tent. This was his way of making a little money for food and to help his family. He talked of his dreams to someday go back to school and become a doctor like us, to help his countrymen heal, and to provide a better life for his family. I was so touched by his honesty, humility, and commitment that by the end of the week I decided I would offer support for him to go back to school. Since that time, he has successfully completed 6 years in that medical school, and will graduate this summer to return to Haiti to serve his people. Not only has he done well with our private support, but he has gone on his own student missions to villages in the countryside of the Dominican Republic.
As a result of these experiences, I formed a non-profit organization, Men Anpil ("Many Hands," in Creole). Its mission is to support the dental facility in Christianville and to identify and support other Haitian students to attend medical, dental, or nursing schools. It has always seemed clear to me that the only way Haiti is to have a chance at self-sufficiency, is to have its own people rise out of their poverty and disadvantage and take care of their own. This organization (www.menanpil.net) is, we hope, our drop in the bucket. I have not done this alone, however, and am grateful for the help and support of many. No endeavor like this can happen without that support, and I invite any of my colleagues reading this to consider contributing to the cause, or, if the spirit moves you as it did me, travel to Haiti itself. If you have never had the experience of working in a “fourth world” country like this or thought that maybe it was time to return something of yourself back into the world of those most in need, then feel free to call us. It's something you'll never regret.
Dr. E. Steven Moriconi is board certified in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and has been practicing for nearly 30 years in Montgomery County, PA. He is director of The Abington Hospital General Practice Residency and has numerous professional publications and memberships in organizations to his credit. He provides free services to indigent patients in his community as a member of the DDS (Donated Dental Services) network. He leads annual dental mission trips to Haiti to provide oral surgery services for the poor and indigent. He has been named a Philadelphia Magazine “Top Doc” in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery in 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2014 and was a recipient the 2013 PDA Public Service Award. He became a Fellow of both the American and International College of Dentists in 2014.
Photo Caption: “ICD Fellow, Dr. Steven Moriconi with a young admirer in the Haitian countryside.”