Below is a blog post by Rachel Prusynski, who in 2010, was visiting her friend Molly Hightower who was volunteering at the NPH Haiti home when the devastating earthquake hit.
I was only supposed to visit my college friend Molly Hightower who was volunteering at NPH Haiti. On the 10th day of the trip, an earthquake of 7.0 Mw rocked the Caribbean country. It changed my life forever.
My first trip to NPH Haiti: As well as visiting Molly Hightower, who was mid-way through her volunteer year at NPH Haiti, I was considering volunteering for NPH after finishing my doctorate in physical therapy and wanted to see what the volunteer experience was like. Molly and I became close friends while studying at the University of Portland in Oregon. After spending a lovely time in Haiti with Molly and her fellow volunteers through helping her at work at St. Damien’s hospital as well as spending some time traveling around Haiti, the earthquake struck.
The moment it struck
I was on the top floor of the Father Wasson Centre, a 6-story building in Petionvile where the volunteers lived and where NPH had offices, day programs for kids with disabilities from the community, and an event space. I was sitting in the lounge area next to Ryan Kloos, who was visiting his sister Erin, another volunteer. Erin and Molly were both downstairs in their rooms showering after our trip to the market. One minute, Ryan and I were checking e-mails, and the next I remember, I was on my feet scrambling as the floor tipped sideways. There was no time to react, and I was buried as the entire building crashed down, our top floor pancaking on top of the floors below. Unfortunately, both Ryan and Molly were killed.
I was pulled from the Father Wasson Centre by strangers who I believe were involved with NPH who drove me to the US embassy that night. I was evacuated to Guantanamo Bay Navy Hospital due to my injuries, and was back in the US within a few days after negotiating a flight to Florida. I was injured and unable to help immediately in the aftermath, and as a visitor unfamiliar to Haiti I likely wouldn’t have been very helpful, but I ached to help and felt disconnected from everyone struggling in Haiti, especially considering my only connection to Haiti had died with Molly.
Because of the strength and destruction of the earthquake, everyone in Haiti lost someone.
Supporting NPH in the Aftermath
I returned to Haiti for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and was graciously hosted by Molly’s former boss and colleagues and have returned for multiple trips since, both training physical therapy technicians and nursing students at the St. Luke schools and hospital associated with NPH as well as the Kay Germaine program for youth and adults with disabilities.
I also had the opportunity to establish a university scholarship in Molly’s honor at our alma mater. Two young adults who grew up at NPH Haiti have now successfully completed their bachelor’s degrees at the University of Portland on a full-ride scholarship.
I have seen our NPH programs in Haiti go through many changes in recent years, with the initial Father Wasson Angels of Light program borne in acute response to the quake shifting to a more permanent program. I have continuously been impressed by the quality of care at St. Damien hospital, with the addition of the pediatric residency program and expanded oncology service lines, among other achievements. The Kay Germaine programs have expanded to serve adults with neurologic impairment, a huge gap in rehabilitative care present even before the earthquake. I also sponsored a young child who was left at the NPH home after the earthquake and he is now turning 18; we have communicated for almost 10 years and I am extremely proud of his compassionate nature and drive.
10 Years Later
Staying connected to NPH was essential for my personal recovery after the earthquake. Having an outlet for some of my survivor’s guilt and my desire to help as well as a connection to the NPH community makes me feel like part of a family and continues to give me purpose. I founded the first Associate Board of young professionals for NPH USA in the Northwest. Through the years, the Associate Board has been responsible for raising thousands of dollars and energizing young donors through many community events and child sponsorships. I now serve on the NPH USA Northwest regional board and continue to support NPH Haiti. In terms of the two university scholarships, I got to be a part of the students’ support team as they went through college here in the U.S. and am lucky to consider both of them as family. I know that when I look back on my life in years to come, my role in their journey and their place in my family will be one of the biggest points of pride and love in my life.
I was hoping to be in Haiti with the NPH community for the 10th anniversary of the earthquake but cannot, in good conscience, be a burden to them at this time. NPH Haiti is struggling against the daily challenges of keeping the home and hospital running amidst gas and transportation shortages during the current political crisis. The NPH Haiti staff are competent and courageous people and I will continue to send them as much financial support as I can manage, especially during the worst crisis Haiti has faced since the earthquake. Considering they have faced the cholera outbreak and multiple hurricanes since 2010, the fact that this current systemic unrest has even more negative impacts on our operations and poses more uncertainty for the future is a testament to the massive challenges our staff face daily in order to provide care for the vulnerable families we support.