Boca Raton won first place in the Serious Feature Reporting category (small, print/online) for Lucas' story "Crisis Management," which detailed the life-saving work in Port-au-Prince done by Green and his Project Medishare team under the most desperate conditions.
Not only did Lucas bring home an award-winning story, she also returned from her third trip to Haiti with a severe case of malaria. We couldn't be more proud of Lucas, who never fails to go the extra mileâ€”and then someâ€”when reporting for Boca Raton.
The Sunshine State Awards, presented by the Society of Professional Journalists' South Florida chapter, were awarded Saturday night at a ceremony at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood.
For those who missed this story in the July/August 2010 issue of Boca Raton, here is the main feature in its entirety:
CRISIS MANAGEMENT / By Lisa Lucas
Warning shouts echo throughout the United Nations compound in Port-au-Prince.
â€œIn coming, in coming!â€
Doctors and nurses run toward an ambulance pulling into the University of Miamiâ€™s makeshift field hospital. Itâ€™s 1 in the morning, and the flashing red lights and sirens have roused the sleeping patients stretched out on army cots as far as the eye can see. Those who can walk gather around as a South African rescue team gently lifts a young man from the emergency vehicle. Stevenson Pierre Louis, 17, has spent the past four days partially buried amid the rubble of his home, his right arm pinned beneath a roof that collapsedâ€”as did a quarter-million other residential structuresâ€”following the catastrophic earthquake that forever altered Haiti on Jan. 12.
A man in green scrubs, his hair an electric shock of silver, parts the sea of onlookers and approaches the teen. After a brief examination of the arm with a flashlight, he calmly delivers his verdict.
â€œItâ€™s too late to save it,â€ he says. â€œGangrene has set in. Weâ€™ll have to amputate now. Get him to the [operating room].â€
â€œWhere is it?â€ asks a member of the rescue team.
â€œYouâ€™re looking at it,â€ Barth Green says.
The renowned South Florida neurosurgeon and co-founder of the nonprofit health care organization Project Medishare for Haiti steps aside, revealing a cardboard box strewn with medical tools, a camping lantern hanging from a tree branch and a blue nylon tarp slung crookedly over a kitchen table that will double as the operating table.
Green puts on a surgical mask and a paper hat. There is no running water with which to scrub, so he pours bottled water in his palms, dries his hands and quickly slips into a pair of rubber gloves.
â€œCan anybody find a [surgical] jig saw?â€ Green asks, knowing that earlier attempts to find one had been futile. Volunteers with flashlights frantically rummage through supply boxes, but the search comes up empty.
â€œWeâ€™ll have to go with what we have,â€ he says, reaching for a scalpel which, along with a pocket knife, Green will use to slice and twist off the arm like a turkey leg.
â€œWe only have nine minutes of anesthesia. Weâ€™ll have to make do.â€
Making do is the mantra that has resonated throughout Haiti ever since the magnitude 7.0 earthquake brought the Caribbean country to its knees, killing an estimated 250,000 people and leaving another 1.1 million homeless. But for Barth Green, itâ€™s not enough to just make do. It never has been.
Not when it comes to Haiti.
When Green first went to Haiti 16 years ago, his intent was not to tackle the countryâ€™s dreadful health-care system. But it shouldnâ€™t come as a surprise that he did.
Altruism is in the blood of the department chair of neurological surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. His father and grandfather were both prominent physicians who worked with underprivileged patients; his mother was a teacher and community activist. In addition to his pioneering work as president of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, Green spent three decades in the army medical reserve (he retired as a lieutenant colonel) and co-founded Shake-a-Leg, a sailing program that serves the handicapped community of South Florida.
When his longtime friend from medical school, Arthur Fournier, invited him on an international medical mission to Haiti in 1994, Green quickly fell in love with the country and its people. That was all it took for the man dubbed â€œDr. Do-Goodâ€ by his colleagues to turn a one-time mission into a life-changing calling.
â€œThey were happy, optimistic and gratefulâ€”yet they had nothing,â€ says Green, who founded Project Medishare with Fournier shortly after their trip. â€œI decided I would never stop trying to do something for these people.â€
Green and Fournier began by working with hospitals in remote areas of the island, areas that had no roads or ground access and little professional medical care. Their motives were pureâ€”the two doctors wanted to provide health care without pushing religious, personal or profit-generating agendas.
â€œProject Medishare was created as more of a humanitarian exchange,â€ Green says. â€œThey share their dignity and culture and we share our medical knowledge, which is very different from the faith-based organizations that are the majority of Haitiâ€™s medical organizations. We do it because it is the right thing to do.â€
â€œFor years he has put his entire heart and soul, as well as every waking moment, into helping Haiti,â€ says Jenna Green, Barthâ€™s daughter (he also has two sons, both doctors, with wife Kathy) and a key player in the operation and coordination of Project Medishare. â€œI only wish we could clone him, since he canâ€™t say no to anyone and thereâ€™s only one of him to go around.â€
Call to Action
Minutes after learning about the earthquake, Green was on his Blackberry calling in favors and asking for help. He hasnâ€™t put down the Blackberry since.
Hank Asher, a Boca Raton entrepreneur and philanthropist (see sidebar), flew Green and his team to Haiti the morning after. Since then, Asher has been donating his planes for unlimited trips to Port-au-Prince, transporting doctors and medical supplies and bringing back critically wounded victims to South Florida hospitals.
â€œWe were the first [medical professionals] here the morning after,â€ Green says. â€œJust me and two other doctors and a couple of amazing men that the U.N. loaned us. But we had no supplies other than what I could bring with meâ€”no food, no water, no cots. When you have a country with a poor infrastructure to begin with and very little health care system in place, a disaster like this is impossible to deal with.
â€œI was overwhelmed when I saw what had happened to these people. All I could do was cry ... and go into auto pilot mode.â€
Green compares the scene in January to the front lines of war. The U.N. allowed Greenâ€™s all-volunteer staffâ€”approximately 80 doctors and 120 nurses and medical technicians, alternating weekly shiftsâ€”to use two empty hangars, each roughly the size of a football field, for the first three weeks. Project Medishare and an Israeli unit were the only two teams running critical-care hospitals. With few cots, many patients recovered from surgery on the ground, lying, if they were lucky, on a bed of clothing; doctors slept head-to-toe like sardines in a smaller tent.
â€œThere were no tools, no labs, nothing to sterilize with, no X-ray or EKG machinesâ€”no way to see what we were doing,â€ Green says. â€œWe had stethoscopes, some IV [drips] and little else. We were practicing medicine with our bare skills. We used kitchen tables for operating, suitcases as incubators, scraps of twine to hang IV packs. But we had no food for staff or patients.â€
One volunteer was able to talk the manager of the U.N. canteen into boiling four dozen eggs that a farmer had given one of the doctors. At one point two orphaned children, in a scene out of â€œOliver,â€ approached a group of nurses as they ate, with their hands held out and pleading eyes.
Itâ€™s hard to deny a starving child, and, as Green admits, even harder to resist a dying person. â€œOne of my toughest choices was overriding the medical staff who wanted to turn away patients,â€ he says. â€œI know we had no room and not enough supplies, but I refused to turn anyone away.â€
Without toilets, and with no proper disposal system for post-surgical waste (including body parts), the stench often was overwhelming. The waste sites became breeding grounds for mosquitoes and disease.
The devastation, compounded by a health-care system in dire straits before the earthquake, meant that help would be slow to arrive. However, in February, Haitian president RenÃ© Preval donated a parcel of land near the airport and workers to mow the fields and set up four huge, air-conditioned event tents supplied by former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.
Four weeks after the earthquake, 180 patients were moved into the new University of Miami/Project Medishare Hospitalâ€”which boasted a real operating room with oxygen and lights, a pediatric ward, a supply tent, a staff dormitory, an X-ray room and an emergency area to treat hundreds of outpatients each day.
Green also had 50 portable toilets and three cold-water showers installed.
The Cost of Survival
If it werenâ€™t for Greenâ€™s connections to donors with deep pocketsâ€”not to mention his personal relationships in Haitiâ€”Project Medishare likely would have gone bust by now. He estimates that his nonprofit has raised upward of $7 million, with more coming in each day.
But itâ€™s not nearly enough.
â€œIt costs about $800,000 a month to run this hospital,â€ Green says. â€œThe doctors and nurses are all volunteers, but we are feeding 600 people a day [because he knows the local restaurant owner, he is able to get meals for $2 a piece]. We need medical supplies, equipment, sanitation, and we employ 190 Haitians as drivers, translators, maintenance and security. [Green hired a private â€œspecial operationsâ€ team for security, which costs approximately $20,000 a month.]
â€œRight now we are the only charity that is spending what we get,â€ he adds. â€œThe Red Cross has raised more than $350 million but little is visible on the ground as far as we can seeâ€”the [Haitian] government is blocking the distribution. I know we havenâ€™t gotten any of it.â€
Red tape and government neglect are nothing new, Green laments, when it comes to health care in Haiti. Heâ€™s not alone in that contention. The Web site charitynavigator.org warns those donating to earthquake relief not to give directly to the Haitian government. â€œHaiti is known to be a corrupt country,â€ the site notes.
Itâ€™s also one that hasnâ€™t made health care a priority. For years, the countryâ€™s few fully functioning hospitals have existed on bare-boned budgets with minimal staffing and less-than-adequate equipment.
â€œThe Haitian government wanted $13 billion to rebuild the country with only four percent going to health care,â€ Green says. â€œAnd that was before the quake. That is a reflection on the level of healthcare that exists in Haiti.
â€œIf I were president, I would want to form private/public partnerships, set limits to the number of private companies and control the profit margins. Any corporation or contractor that comes to rebuild should accept a reasonable profit and be audited.
I have zero tolerance for anything that is not transparent or squeaky cleanâ€”or for anyone who tries to turn tragedy into profit.â€
One of the biggest issues confronting Haiti now is the placement of patients who no longer require treatment. Green says that the country desperately needs an organization to step in and provide temporary shelter and a â€œdischarge packageâ€â€”clothes, food staples and a tent. â€œWe already have people intentionally injuring themselves so they can be admitted to the hospital,â€ he says, â€œbecause they have no where else to go.â€
The Memories Linger
Green canâ€™t help but wear his emotions on his sleeve when it comes to Haiti. Ask him to recall episodes since Jan. 12 that will forever stay with him, and he invariably tears up.
One man named Richardson was buried for six days before being rescued. Both of his legs were crushed, and his kidneys were failing fastâ€”but Greenâ€™s doctors used precious medical supplies to try and save him. He didnâ€™t make it, but Green was satisfied that they did everything they could to save him.
Then there was the 3-year-old boy, trapped in a deep hole covered by rubble. Rescue workers couldnâ€™t remove the child without cutting off his arm.
â€œI couldnâ€™t get into Port-au-Prince because the roads were blocked, so I talked Marc Grossman [a doctor from Dade County Search and Rescue who was on the scene] through the operation on the one satellite phone we had working,â€ Green says. â€œWe had no choice. We saved his life, but the image of that scared little boy [even though he never saw him] still haunts me.â€
Then there was the desperate search for the six students and faculty members from Lynn University who perished when the Hotel Montana collapsed.
â€œWe saw so much death and destruction, but it always hits harder when you lose oneâ€”or many, in this caseâ€”of your own. A lot of our staff is from the Boca area and they took it hard.â€
As for Stevenson Pierre Louis, the 17-year-old who had his arm amputated with a scalpel and pocket knife, after five weeks at the hospital (his parents slept on the floor by his cot) he returned to the street where his house once stood. Everything his family has left fits into three cardboard boxes; they live out of a tent. When his amputated stub heals, Pierre Louis will be fitted with a prosthetic arm by Project Medishare.
â€œSo many of my friends are dead or missing,â€ the young man says. â€œI may have one arm now, but at least I am here to use the other.â€
These are the stories that bind Green to Haiti, that keep him tied to his Blackberry and working on their behalf, whether in South Florida or on the ground in Port-au-Prince.
â€œI have been working in Haiti for over fifteen years and everyone wanted me to leave because they thought Haitiâ€™s future with a corrupt government was hopeless,â€ Green says. â€œIf the government doesnâ€™t care why should I be killing myself?
â€œBut these people deserve help. It is a basic human right.â€