Haiti Mission Trip 2017

Haiti Mission Trip

“There’s a Chance that Lives in every Dream”

The following blog represents my own personal thoughts and feelings on a recent mission trip to Haiti. The invitation to accompany Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH) was the opportunity and experience of a lifetime. I was blessed to join the amazing doctors and nurses from University of Miami and TJUH including my dear friend and lifesaving surgeon, Dr. David M. Cognetti, M.D., FACS, Co-Director, Jefferson Center for Head and Neck Surgery, and Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology- Head & Neck Surgery at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. I was equally blessed to have my friend of 25+ years and professional photographer Michael John Murphy join the trip. Michael is a kind soul and it was a real personal comfort for me to have him along on this journey. Thankfully, I will lean on Michael’s pictures to better tell the incredible story of this mission trip to Haiti.

We arrived in Haiti on Sunday afternoon and headed straight St. Luke’s Hospital after dumping our gear in the compound so the doctors and nurses could unload supplies and meet with patients for surgery. We started each morning with breakfast in our compound and then attended church service at 7am. We were joined at church by locals as well as groups from University of Scranton, Canada, Italy and France. Unfortunately, daily mass also included funeral services for far too many babies and children.

St. Damien’s Church

This stark reality served as a constant reminder and backdrop for our trip. However, chapel always provided a peaceful and spiritual start to our day. The entire crew was present for mass each morning and brought a sense of unity to the group.

Abandoned Children

I followed the funeral procession from chapel on our first day to the final resting spot for the deceased. I joined Dr. David Cognetti’s cousin Dr. Peter Cognetti and his kids, Anne and Will for the rest of the day. We visited St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital where one of the rooms is designated for abandoned children. These babies and children are left to fend for themselves and are often brought to St. Damien’s for needed care, love and eventually placed with an orphanage. This room is most likely the first place these beautiful children feel human touch. The image above shows Anne Cognetti and me visiting with the children.

St. Damien’s Warehouse

St. Damien’s complex also houses a warehouse, chicken coops, tilapia breeding ponds, gardens, bakery and various other opportunities for locals to support themselves. After the pediatric hospital visit, we finished the first day by helping Founder Fr. Rick Frechette organize the construction supplies section of the warehouse. The photo above shows the completed task.

Haiti Mission Trip
Cite’ Soleil

Michael and I joined a group heading to Cite’ Soleil for our second day. It took us approximately one hour from chapel at St. Damien’s through the “streets” of Port Au’ Prince” to get to Cite’ Soleil where we were met by local gang leaders who would later serve as translators between the Haitian people and our doctors. We set up a pop-up clinic on this day where somewhere between 50-100 patients were seen by our doctors.

The devastation and destruction that we witnessed in this area will remain with us for the rest of our lives. The people are welcoming of any support and hope could be seen in the eyes of the children. This was evident when our friend Chris shared some clothing and a couple new soccer balls with them. The picture above was taken by Michael as we arrived at St. Mary’s where we set up our clinic for the day. The small bridge was a gateway over mountains of waste and trash that here at home we would only see in an open landfill. However, this is where people lived in aluminum huts if they were lucky with animals rummaging through this canal of waste that led to the Atlantic Ocean. The cleared parcel of dirt along their “beach” visible to the right of the canal of waste in the picture above is where kids migrate after school to play soccer. The plight of the human condition throughout this country is unimaginable and Cite’ Soleil shakes you to your very core!

Haiti Mission Trip
St. Luke’s Hospital – Surgery Blackout

Our third full day was spent with the University of Miami and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital doctors, nurses and team members. Michael continued to photograph. I spent the day operating the blood supply circulation pump and supporting the medical team however possible. The photo above shows one of the times that we were greeted by a blackout during surgery. The team remained focused and many IPhone flashlights were turned on as you can see in the right corner of the picture above. Our medical team worked side by side with skilled Haitian surgeons like Dr. Patrick Jean Gilles, nurses and medical team members.

Haiti Mission Trip
David Caldarella & Dr. David Cognetti

This image captured by Michael in surgery is one of my favorites of the entire trip and doesn’t need much of an explanation. I am helping Dr. Cognetti with his surgical gown as he prepares to operate on a Haitian patient. This was an equally gratifying and extremely emotional day for me on so many levels. I was the patient almost 7 years ago, on the surgical table and now to be serving others side by side with some of the surgical team that saved my life including Dr. Cognetti and nurse Carol from TJUH was truly a moment in my life that I will cherish forever. It was extremely humbling to witness the skill, care and compassion delivered by the medical team and as a former patient I can appreciate the quality of their lifesaving care.

St. Luke’s Compound – Mosquito Net

Our compound had an outdoor eating/meeting area and flats that would house up to 6 people. Michael and I shared a room in our flat with Dr. Cognetti and first-year Jefferson University medical student Matthew along with a pediatric doctor and his wife from Italy. There was one bathroom and we were fortunate to have cold running water out of the shower if at all. Each bed came equipped with a mosquito net, and although I was glad to be protected from nasty disease carrying mosquito’s, my net decided to fall on me from the ceiling on the first night. I’m not sure if I was more scared or I scared Michael more with my screams thinking I was being attacked by my mosquito net in the middle of the night. We were so grateful for our accommodations because nearby there was so much despair and devastation.

Haiti Mission Trip
David Caldarella – St. Luke’s Chapel

Michael captured this picture in a newly-built chapel inside the compound at St. Luke’s Hospital prior to leaving for Port Au Prince Airport for our return trip home. I started to feel sick our last night in Haiti so I think this picture the next morning captures me physically and emotionally drained reflecting deeply on the mission experience. I was thinking about the Haitian people, loved ones at home and those special angels that watch over us now. I felt God’s presence in this moment as much as I did during my battle with cancer. I also know a wave of emotion came over me at some point in this quiet moment regarding the totality of this mission trip. Tears started to flow and my heart was empty and full all at the same time.

Haiti Mission Trip
Group Photo – Haiti Mission Trip 2017

(From Left-Back Row: Chris, Patrick, John, Kurren, Mike, Matthew, Mark, Me, Joseph, David)

(From Left-Front Row: Shauna, Jennifer, “cookie the dog,” Carol, Marianne, Don)

(Not Shown: Photographer, Michael John Murphy)

This is my favorite picture of our amazing “Dream Team” including new friend “cookie the dog” who joined us for the picture. Michael captured thousands of incredible images and I look forward to sharing his photo journal link very soon.

It was truly an honor to have been invited by the Jefferson team to join this Haiti mission trip and to share a common goal in serving as “A Beacon of Hope” that shines beyond our borders and out into the global community!


David Caldarella