AAMC Nurse Joins Relief Efforts in Haiti

AAMC Nurse Joins Relief Efforts in Haiti

Shortly after the earthquake that devastated Haiti, the USNS Comfort set out to assist in the humanitarian relief efforts. Joann Fitzell, a NICU nurse at AAMC, wife and mother of four, and Navy Reserve Commander, was on board. She left for Haiti on Feb. 15, 2010 and returned home about a month later.

Below, Joann shares some of her experiences.

At first, I worked on the Pediatric ward (on the ship) as a staff nurse. When we had discharged all of our Haitian patients, I went to shore to work at the Haitian University Hospital, helping with wound care and dressing changes.

The patients were set up around the hospital in the streets. They had tents lining the street as wards. I went to the pediatric ward and helped with some of the kids. I held them and did some dressing (changes and) wound care. They were just incredible–so strong and so old beyond their age. Still, they were just smiling away.

I also worked as the training officer for all of the nurses and corpsmen on the ship for the last two weeks I was there. I organized classes on combat care and disaster readiness, as well as classes on lessons learned while we were responding to the disaster.

The patient I remember most was an eight year-old boy who was playing in his front yard and as his house collapsed. The ground opened up and ‘swallowed’ him.  He tried for three days to dig himself out and kept falling back into the earth. His father dug through the rubble to save him. He kept calling his name and when he heard his son, he would dig towards the sound of his voice.

He was taken from his Dad for medical care as soon as he was rescued and his dad thought he died. When he finally got to the ship about a week later, we tried to prepare him to see his son, who had major facial injuries and had lost his right hand and his left leg below the knee. He said, ‘I don’t care how he looks, I’m just so happy he’s alive.’

We all thought the little boy was so brave and strong and kept praising him. I remember the Dad so well, though. I think being a mom myself made me look to him. I talked with him quite a bit. He finally broke down crying saying, ‘If I had dug faster, he would not have lost his hand and his leg.’

It just hit me really hard that he was upset with himself when, in fact, he had saved his son’s life. I hugged him and reminded him that his son would not be here at all if it were not for him.

The USNA Comfort cared for over 1000 patients, almost all of which were Haitians.

To all the health care personnel who staffed the USNA Comfort, we thank you for your selflessness. Joanne, we are proud to call you one of our own.

3 comments

  1. Posted by Joann Fitzell, at Reply

    I couldn’t have done my job there if I had not had the support of my supervisor and all of my co-workers. They picked up my job shifts here and were so supportive. I know how hard it is for those who don’t have the support at home. I’ve had to help so many junior officers and enlisted members through very difficult times at sea and abroad when their civilian jobs and their families are not supportive. It makes a difficult deployment almost unbearable. The group here at AAMC is just amazingly supportive. I couldn’t do anything without that.

  2. Posted by Eve Sage, at Reply

    Joann,
    What a story you have shared. This father is a true hero and an example of how parenthood changes our entire perception of ourselves and those around us. So great you are able to keep in touch with this family, and that you can continue to share this inspiring story with others. Thanks

  3. Posted by wendy easterling, at Reply

    Joann,
    I cannot say enough how amazing of a person you are. It was a very honorable thing you did. Kudos to you!! I look up to those who help others in disasters such as this. This is an experience you will never forget. It touched on all aspects of emotions.

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