John Brebbia: Surgeon's Work Honors Fallen Friend

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , December 2, 2010

Fortunately, a member of the Delaware rescue team was a Jacmel native who had been instrumental in planning the mission. "She got on the mayor pretty good to the point where he just said, 'I will take her word that you are all OK,'" Brebbia says. "Then we went to the hospital and the administrator didn't want us working in his hospital, which was a pile of rubble. There were tents outside. Well, not even tents. They were tarps over trees and patients under the tarps in the open air. The nurses were family members. If you didn't have a family member, you didn't have a nurse."

Fortunately, the Canadian army did a remarkable job maintaining order. "We would call them and say we need diesel fuel and 10 minutes later there is a 40 gallon drum of diesel fuel," he says. 

The Canadians also handed out food, tents, and clothing on a massive scale to all parts of the city. "It prevented the people there from becoming unhappy, disgruntled, and dangerous," Brebbia says. "In Port au Prince we saw people killing each other for food. In Southern Haiti that didn't happen because of the way and the speed that the Canadians dispersed the aid was so great that people where having their basic needs met. We never felt threatened. We never felt unsafe."

Now back in Delaware, Brebbia thinks often of Haiti and the huge obstacles the nation still faces as it struggles to recover.

The time he spent there has changed him. "It's impossible not to," he says. And despite witnessing some decidedly dire images, he saw much good that stay with him.   "Personally speaking, I saw hundreds of people whose lives were devastated—parents who lost little kids and who despite that were able to treat their neighbor better, or they took in kids who didn't have parents."

"In the face of such a huge and overwhelming tragedy I saw people who really acted in a decent manner. It does make you at least want to try to treat your neighbors better," he says. "Because if these people can do it in the face of that, why can't we do it every day?"

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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