Scientology Volunteer Minister tells of Haiti disaster response
Karen Farrell is a midwife and a Scientology Volunteer Minister who lives in New England. When she heard about the Haiti earthquake on January 12, her first thought was that she needed to help. Four days later she was in Port-au-Prince with the medical and disaster relief team of doctors, nurses, paramedics and Volunteer Ministers who boarded a flight in New York on January 16, chartered by the Church of Scientology to take medical personnel and supplies to Haiti.
Karen was assigned to General Hospital, where the facilities were woefully inadequate for the doctors and nurses working desperately to do something for the worst of the enormous numbers of earthquake victims. Overwhelmed with casualties, the medical staff could scarcely tend to women having babies.
The Norwegian Red Cross had set up a small makeshift obstetric and surgical unit and welcomed the midwife and doctors newly arrived from America.
Karen and a Haitian-American obstetrician from the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad, who arrived on the same flight, set up a rudimentary labor and delivery room that Karen described as “archaic,” and started moving women in.
After a twelve-hour shift, exhausted obstetrics staff started leaving for the night. With no doctor on duty, Karen decided to stay. A fortunate decision. Karen delivered two babies that night.
The first baby was a girl whose mother named her “My Love.” The second was born to a 16-year-old first-time mother. Alone, without her family or the father, the young mother was exhausted and terrified. “I held her in my arms for a long time, rocking her,” said Karen. “After eight hours, we were finally able to move, her to a room with power (yes, we were in the dark all that time). I had to show her how to push and get her to understand me.” With the help of a translator, she told the woman, “Be strong and deliver this baby now!”
On another night, six women were in labor, two of them difficult cases. Karen could only hope their babies would hold off until the obstetrics staff came back on duty. Then, as morning dawned, another earthquake struck. Panic swept through the hospital. Some patients, forgetting their limbs had been amputated, tried to stand up and run out. Others who were far too sick to move struggled to get out of bed and out of the building.
“People were screaming and the whole building was shaking,” said Karen. The labor room and all the obstetrics patients were in the basement, and Karen knew that if the building collapsed they would all be trapped.
She scrambled with medical students and military personnel to evacuate the patients from the basement and the wards, carrying them outside and placing them on the ground away from the unstable hospital building.
The move was too much for some. A young man died when his oxygen tank was disconnected so he could be moved. The nurse with him went into shock and was unable to function. Karen quickly applied her Volunteer Ministers Disaster Response training that orients a person to their immediate surroundings, and the nurse soon snapped out of her shock and said, “OK, we have a lot of work to do,” and got back to work moving patients to safety.
Amid the death and destruction, one of the women started giving birth. Haitian women near the mother-to-be began to sing. When the baby appeared, someone shouted, “A baby has been born! There is hope in the world.”
Karen was still hoping the two difficult cases would hold off until an obstetrician came back on duty. Just as one was about to give birth, her labor slowed and the obstetrician arrived in time and delivered the baby by Caesarean section.
Karen also helped nonobstetrics patients. Many had no family because they were killed or separated in the earthquake, so Karen comforted them. “Though I don’t speak Creole, I could still sit with them and simply listen to them talk. I couldn’t understand their words, but I wanted them to know they were not alone.
“One gentleman had so much fear in his eyes. I put my hand on his shoulder and in French I said ‘calm.’ I just wanted him to know that someone was there. He talked and talked and I nodded my head. I understood enough to know that he was in a lot of pain and was terrified. He thought he was dying. I got a cold cloth and wiped his face and the back of his neck.
“Everything was in disarray, including the area where the medicine was kept, and the doctors were spending their precious time picking though the medicine trying to find the one the man needed. I told them I would look for it so they could keep treating patients. I finally found it and they gave it to him and he recovered. He made it.”
Karen returned home to Boston after a week, to go back to her job. In one week in Haiti she delivered six babies with her own hands and helped with another. She says the experience changed her, and she will never be the same.