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Olean General Hospital nurse goes on mission trip to help Haitians after devastating earthquake

Posted on: 04/29/2010

When the opportunity arose to help desperate Haitians injured and sick from the most violent earthquake to hit the country in 100 years, Thomas Sampson never hesitated to join a medical mission group. He knew his training and experience as a registered nurse at Olean General Hospital’s Emergency Department would be indispensable.

According to estimates by relief agencies, there are 1.3 million Haitians displaced by the magnitude-7 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 on Jan. 12 in what’s considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

“A pastor I know from Houghton was putting together a medical mission group through World Hope International and I had to say yes,” said Mr. Sampson, who also lives in Houghton.

World Hope International is a faith-based relief and development organization in Alexandria, Va., established in 1996 to alleviate poverty and suffering.

“The primary objective of our mission group was to perform medical clinic work in the tent cities outside Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, for people who didn’t have access to medical care,” he said.

It took careful planning and six weeks to organize for the trip. Included in the medical mission group was its organizer, Jon Cole, a youth pastor at the Houghton Wesleyan Church, and also David Brubaker, M.D., of Houghton.

“We arrived April 5 in Haiti with several large duffel bags of medicine and were there for seven days,” said Mr. Sampson.

He credited Olean General’s Emergency Department nurses and Radiology staff with donating money for the mission trip and supplies such as over-the-counter medications. “Also, Olean General donated two suture kits,” he said.

Once in Haiti, there was an endless line of people for the medical mission group to see. During the mission group’s stay, “We saw 765 patients,” the Olean General nurse said, adding, “I spent my time in the role of a nurse practitioner. I had a lot of freedom to see patients on my own with simple ailments.”

There were many memorable cases but one was especially poignant for him. “A 16-month-old girl was suffering from pneumonia and was dehydrated. I started an IV (intravenous therapy) to give her some fluids. When she returned the next day you could see she was doing better and was far more alert,” he said.

Despite the suffering and devastation that could be seen throughout the countryside, “The Haitians, overall, still managed to have a positive outlook and were very thankful” for those who came to deliver aid, Mr. Sampson said. “Their attitude and warmth was just overwhelming. It was hard to believe because the poor conditions they lived in are even worse than what’s portrayed on television.”

The memories and bonds formed on that trip will never be forgotten by Mr. Sampson.

The trip also renewed his sense of gratitude for life back home.

“I have a definite appreciation now of how good I have it here both personally and professionally,” he said.

Looking back, “It was a very rewarding experience to go there,” Mr. Sampson said. Still, far more help is needed in Haiti and other impoverished countries.

He also urged others to consider joining medical mission groups. Having a medical background is not a requirement. “Of our seven, only three had medical backgrounds,” he said. “A medical aid trip is something everyone should do at least once in their life.”

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