In February of 2013, when I arrived at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti (HAS), I had already spent six months in Port-au-Prince, where I had begun conducting research on the neurological disease patterns seen at the emergency rooms of selected major hospitals in Haiti. Given the hectic experience of those first 6 months, my arrival on the campus of HAS in rural Deschapelles, Haiti, seemed nothing short of paradise. I was initially struck by the beauty of the region; as a Haitian-American, I was no stranger to the beauty of “rural Haiti”—yet the mountains of Deschapelles and the gorgeous Artibonite Valley still managed to charm me. During my months at HAS, however, it was not the setting but the extraordinary commitment of the doctors, nurses, and staff that truly won me over and showed me what a special place HAS is, and has been, for almost 60 years.
Most of my time during my three months at HAS was spent working at the hospital. Despite the pressures and shortfalls the hospital has faced during its 57 years of serving the people of the Artibonite Valley, the hospital was operating with a degree of efficiency that easily rivaled the best I had seen in the country. Patient care was efficient and comprehensive, even though it was forced to make the most of the most limited available resources. As a result of the hospital’s smooth, team-oriented approach, I had the privilege of carrying out my research study with ease and a thoroughness that I had not experienced at my other research sites in Haiti—and for this, I remain grateful and impressed.
Over the months I worked at HAS, I became less surprised by the clinical excellence I observed as I began to appreciate its source: the richness of the hospital’s history and heritage. The vision of Dr. Larry Mellon, and the love and generosity of the Mellon family in developing HAS and its surrounding community, all became increasingly apparent to me. As I began to learn and experience more about this special part of Haiti, I observed this rich legacy continuing on today: I saw it through my visits to Mellon House; by appreciating the architecture and design of the hospital and campus grounds; and especially through the many conversations I had in English and Haitian-Creole with HAS staff members—in many cases, some of my newest and closest friends—who are the lifeblood of the institution. But overall, I came to see that HAS was—is—so much more than a hospital; it is a family of clinicians and supporters carrying on a very important legacy.
A couple of years ago, while planning my research project in Haiti, a close friend and classmate in medical school recommended I look into the work happening at HAS. (My friend, like me, is Haitian-American and is originally from Pittsburgh, so knew the story of the Mellon family.) At the time, as I rather innocently began looking into working at HAS, I had no idea that I myself would become a part of this special family and this rich legacy. Yet today, thanks to this unique three-month journey into the heart of the Artibonite Valley, my professional identity in medicine and my personal identity as a Haitian-American have both been enriched by my membership in the HAS family.