Dr. Elcano Travels to Haiti - twice

Elcano Dental in Haiti. Photo is of a classroom in Haiti.
Photo of Dr. Elcano with a patient from Haiti.
Dr. Elcano examining a patient in Haiti.
Dr. Elcano and the other doctors in Haiti.

In 2012, still rebuilding after the devastating earthquake, the Haitians are in more need of basic dental and medical care. Dr. Nichole Elcano's recent volunteer missions to Haiti gave her perspective on the hardships that other parts of the world endure daily. During her week-long stay, Dr. Elcano worked with Haitian dentists and helped train their assistants on preventive care and dental procedures in the cities of St. Marc and Mirebalais. "I am tremendously grateful for the ease with which we can see physicians and dentists in the United States, " recalled Dr. Elcano. She stayed at Zanmi Lasante,  a campus consisting of a hospital, dental clinic, and school. Her dorm-like accommodations that she shared with two other doctors, lacked running water for most of the day and water for drinking.

For this mission, Dr. Elcano had the privilege of joining 4 other dentists to work at the Partners In Health facility in Cange, Haiti. Partners In Health is an organization that was started by Dr. Paul Farmer. Dr. Elcano first learned about Dr. Paul Farmer when she read the Pulitzer prize winning book, Mountains Beyond Mountains which tells the his story. His commitment to health care as a human right for the poorest people resonated with her.

What Dr. Elcano remembers most about this trip is the very young girl that came from hours away with her mother. Her eye had a massive lesion, the size of a golf ball, growing out of it. They had hoped they could receive treatment at the Hospital in Cange. While there were 3 volunteer surgeons there from the United States, none of them was trained to provide the care she needed. They knew it was a type of cancerous growth. The only option was to get her to the capitol of Port au Prince, where should could be treated. Unfortunately, with no money, nothing would be done. This little girlʼs situation was heartbreaking. “It makes me so grateful that I just happened to be born in this country. My son Will has a lot of medical needs, and there isnʼt a day that goes by that I am not thankful for the access to care that we have here.”

2009 Mission

The February 2012 trip marked her second Haiti experience volunteering with Partners in Health, a not-for-profit organization that provides medical services to Haiti and Central America. In her 2009 trip, she witnessed first-hand the lack of dental care for the Haitians.  Once word was received that volunteer dentists and doctors were assisting the area, patients came from great distances on foot to receive dental care.

The 2009 mission provided dental, veterinary, and vision care. Dr. Elcano and the other dentists treated 198 patients during their week long trip. The dentist mostly performed extractions for just $1. The idea for a fee at all was that it helped keep the clinic from being overwhelmed and helped to keep track of how many people were seen. The proceeds were given to the local technical school.

Patients were treated in a room at the local technical school. The 12' x 12'  brick building housed some wooden tables, open air windows, crude wooden chairs, a chalkboard and a “fancy” exam chair. The "fancy chair" was an $11 chaise lounge lawn chair. For light, Dr. Elcano used a battery powered headlamp that was originally sold for camping.

“The best thing about the trip was that you got every experience along the way,” Dr. Elcano said. “It was hard, it was fun and at times, it was very sad. It was everything and more.”

Partners in Health is in the process of building a new hospital in Mirebalais. If you would like to learn more and contribute to Partners in Health visit  www.pih.org