In May 2009, Patricia Curtin, M.D., joined an alumni group from the University of Notre Dame on a mission to the village of Leogane in Haiti, focused on preventing and treating filariasis, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease.
The catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010 reduced Leogane to rubble, except for a single quake-proof structure built by the Notre Dame group. In an instant, the scope of Dr. Curtin’s subsequent trips to Haiti broadened dramatically.
“Suddenly, we were not just looking at one disease,” she recalls. “We were looking at many health conditions in a very poor country where access to medical care and even over-the-counter medications is extremely limited.”
Set up temporary clinic
Dr. Curtin, section chief of Geriatrics and medical director, 6A ACE Unit at Christiana Hospital, recently returned from her third trip to Haiti, where she set up a temporary geriatric clinic stocked with medications and supplies donated by Christiana Care and other organizations.
The one-day clinic was announced to villagers attending Mass. The next morning, when Dr. Curtin arrived to start work, 80 people were already in line.
“We saw problems with blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, blindness,” she says. “The people have no glasses, no hearing aids, no walkers, no canes.”
The average life expectancy in Haiti is 63.5 years for women and 61 years for men, according to the World Bank. Dr. Curtin treated many patients who have survived into their 80s despite harsh living conditions.
Most still living in tents
“Most people are still living in tents,” she says. “Imagine an 85-year old, living in a tent with a pile of towels for a bed.”
Dr. Curtin dispensed multivitamins, drugs to treat diabetes, hypertension and malaria, acetaminophen and antacid medications. She also distributed reading glasses.
“The older people need glasses for sewing and they were extremely happy to have them,” she says. “They were also very grateful for all the medications that Christiana Care provided.”
Christiana Care, which has donated medicine and other supplies and granted up to two weeks paid administrative leave in some cases to employees wishing to join the relief effort, supported Dr. Curtin’s recent mission.
“Dr. Curtin is a great physician and a great humanitarian, and we were pleased to help her in this effort,” says Ray Seigfried, senior vice president, administration, at Christiana Care.
In addition to her work with geriatric patients, Dr. Curtin and two other doctors who are also Notre Dame alumni cared for patients of all ages in mobile clinics in the village working without the aid of nurses. The doctors set up a mobile clinic under a palm tree in a rural area in the mountains and visited a nursing home operated by nuns.
“We were amazed at the impeccable care they provided with very little resources,” she says.
People’s spirit still strong
More than a year after the disaster, the village is still in ruins. But the spirit of the people who live there remains strong.
“There is a high rate of compliance among the patients in Haiti,” Dr. Curtin says. “They appreciate that we are there and I am grateful to the Christiana Care trustees and employees who helped make this trip a success.”