Dr. Elisa Nicholas still remembers the day in 1980 when she arrived at HAS as a 4th-year medical student, enthusiastic and ready to practice what she had been learning at UCLA.
“The staff was surprised to see us,” she recalls, with a laugh. “They told us they didn’t take medical students.”
Yet, Dr. Nicholas wasn’t turned away. She stayed for a whole month, and the life-changing experience informed the rest of her career as a pediatrician.
During that time, she met and bonded with Dr. Florence “Skeets” Marshall, a pediatrician who Dr. Nicholas describes as “one of the most astute and caring physicians” with a “heart of gold.” Working in an era when there were few female doctors, Dr. Marshall was a role model to Dr. Nicholas.
“She taught us the art of medicine. She loved the people and loved being there,” she recalls.
As a long line of patients gathered every morning, Dr. Marshall would quickly triage who needed to be seen by her or another member of the clinical staff. “She taught me much about how to assess patients.”
It was not only her clinical acumen that so impressed Dr. Nicholas but it was her love for the Haitian culture, the people, and the music. She recalls Dr. Marshall dancing to Haitian music along with patients in the hospital courtyard.
At HAS, Dr. Nicholas was exposed to medical cases that her peers back in the U.S. would never come across, including newborn syphilis and tetanus. She saw many children with meningitis who arrived at the hospital too late. She would attend their autopsies and observe the pathology that led to their deaths. Dr. Nicholas noted that we now have vaccines that prevent most of the deadly meningitis cases.
“The beauty of it is that [HAS] not only treated acute illnesses, but they went upstream and tried to address the causes,” she says. “They were doing true community health and were a role model for others. Dr. Mellon wasn’t practicing medicine at the time I was there; he was saving lives by putting in wells and providing clean drinking water.”
Dr. Nicholas feels fortunate to have known Dr. and Mrs. Mellon and was welcomed into their home on several occasions. When she graduated from medical school, in lieu of gifts, she asked friends and family to donate to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti. Dr. Mellon penned her a personal thank you note on a torn quarter page of notebook paper, which she still has to this day.
After medical school, Dr. Nicholas went on to a pediatrics residency at Yale, received a public health degree from UCLA, and worked internationally in Kenya and Uganda on a child’s survival grant. She returned back to Haiti in 2010 to help out after the earthquake.
She has spent the last 30 years at The Children’s Clinic, Serving Children and Their Families, a large not-for-profit community healthcare system for low income families in Long Beach, California that is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. As CEO, she has helped grow TCC from a small, mostly volunteer-run clinic to 13 health centers and 2 mobile medical clinics serving almost 40,000 patients each year.
“I have always been and continue to be impressed with the quality and level of health care that HAS provides and the focus on the role of community health, clean water, income generating activities and support of the arts,” she says. “I integrated much of what I learned in Haiti and Africa into my current programs.”
Dr. Nicholas continues to donate to the hospital in memory of Dr. Marshall each year and has named HAS in her will. We are hoping she will return to Deschapelles again soon.
Join Dr. Nicholas with a gift to HAS today to ensure children in the Lower Artibonite Valley continue to receive high-quality medical care. If you have included HAS in your will or estate plans, please let us know so that we may recognize you! Contact Samantha Strahota Paolo at email@example.com.