by Alexi Matousek
I first came to HAS in 1991 with my family when I was 9 years old. My parents were recruited to teach at a local school, which was attended by children of several American and European families who lived here at the time. I have extremely fond memories of many great adventures then, including one that inspired me to become a surgeon.
It was a school field trip to the HAS operating room. We were there to watch a common abdominal surgery. It was exhilarating – and it was also overwhelming to me. I became light-headed, and had to leave the OR.
I never forgot the experience, and in the years that followed looked for an opportunity to prove to myself that my reaction was a fluke, that in fact I am “tough” enough to watch a surgical procedure.
Four years later, my father started an NGO to teach illiterate adults how to read in the mountains just south of HAS. We traveled to the mountain village of Damier Gesse for one month each summer for more than a decade doing mostly development work. I learned to speak Kreyol by necessity.
During that time, we hiked down to Deschapelles, where HAS is located,once each week to replenish supplies. While my mother went to the market, I would go to the operating room and watch operations – initially just to prove to myself that I could. Dr. Chauvet Exe, who marks his 30-year anniversary with HAS this year, would graciously nod in greeting when I appeared in the operating room. I recorded each case in my notebook, a curious high school student in awe of the combination of knowledge, thought and mechanical skill required to perform surgery. I was hooked.
Today I am back at HAS in the middle of my surgical residency at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, having completed a Masters in Public Health this past year. My purpose is to help measure surgical outcomes at HAS in order to lay the foundation for future quality improvement efforts.
In my four trips to HAS since July, I have been privileged to work with Dr. Exe, Dr. Rodolphe Jean-Louis, the entire surgical service and many visiting teams. The HAS Surgery team provides an enormous service to the patients and is adapting to cope with an ever-rising volume of trauma patients, more and more of whom have experienced injuries from road traffic accidents. An Orthopedic and Anesthesia team from Switzerland is here as well, helping with fracture cases, enabling staff surgeons to perform elective general surgery cases, some of which could not be done in the first half of the year due to the demand from trauma cases.
While this has been a great help, orthopedic coverage for the remaining six months continues to be a pressing need. Forty percent of all surgery patients at HAS are orthopedic patients. With the newly improved roads and influx of more powerful motorcycles, the health system throughout Haiti will most likely be seeing high volumes of trauma patients for years to come.
HAS has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to providing surgical services. Such services are an essential component of the HAS health system – and will continue to be indispensible for the region going forward.
My time at HAS has been the foundational experience of my life. This amazing place, with so many skilled, caring people, has been at the center of my journey into surgery and public health research. I feel like a privileged son returning home.