ISU Magazine

Volume 40 | Number 2 | Spring/Summer 2010

Local Haitians digging through the devastation caused by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.

Photo provided by Dr. Jennifer Seeley

Caring in Times of Need

Spring 2010 Issue | By Andrew Gauss

When she arrived in Haiti in February, Dr. Jennifer Seeley was struck by the devastation that remained more than a month after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the country.

The Idaho Falls pharmacist and Idaho State University alumna was in Haiti with the Orem, Utah-based International Aid Serving Kids, setting up an ambulatory clinic at the epicenter of the quake for those in need of medical care.

Although many with major trauma had been treated, thousands were still in need of critical medical care.

ISU alumna Dr. Jennifer Seeley reviews medical charts while in Haiti after the January earthquake.

During their stay, the team of doctors, nurses, interpreters and other health care professionals treated about 1,400 patients, and conducted about 16 to 20 surgeries a day. Seeley and her colleagues helped patients with several ailments, but the majority of them were related to infected wounds and hygiene issues. Patients with impetigo, fungal infections, and parasites were common, but the team also helped those with malaria, pneumonia, post-traumatic stress disorder and even pregnant or nursing women needing nutrition care.

“Chronic disease states were also not being adequately treated, such as uncontrolled hypertension,” she said.

Seeley oversaw the makeshift pharmacy at the clinic in Leogane, Haiti, about 18 miles west of Port au Prince. She dispensed medications and organized medicine packs for the team’s daily field trips to outlying rural areas.

In addition to seeing patients in makeshift clinics, the medical teams had other obstacles to overcome. Lack of cold storage for medications requiring lower temperatures, no air conditioning in a hot, humid climate and treating patients in a country where Voodoo is widely practiced are issues many medical teams in the relief effort face, she said. Although the team traveled to Haiti with medications and supplies donated from area health care facilities, Seeley said she also bartered with other medical teams, trading different classes of antibiotics to ensure each team was equipped with their needed supplies.

“It was an interesting barter system,” she said, “but everyone was willing to help out where they could.”

Seeley, who was named the 2005 Outstanding Pharmacy student when she graduated from ISU in 2005, is a longtime volunteer and health care professional who has treated patients suffering from various diseases. A pharmacist with Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, she has also served on medical missions to Honduras.

She said the mission to Haiti had a significant impact on her and she was moved by the gratitude of the Haitian people.

“It is such a privilege to work with an amazing, talented and compassionate group of people, and I must include our Haitian volunteers,” she said. “I was a little taken aback when I went to thank them for their help and they expressed such gratitude for letting them help. I found this quality surprising, considering the state of living conditions.”

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 is described as one of the worst catastrophes in modern history—claiming the lives of about 200,000 people.

Most of the buildings in Haiti no longer stand, Seeley said, and the country has considerable repairs to make to its infrastructure.

“To say conditions are poor is an understatement,” she said. “In Leogane, more than 80 percent of the structures are complete rubble and if any structure is still standing, it is most likely condemned and uninhabitable. Pictures can’t even describe the overwhelming, massive destruction.”

Another College of Pharmacy alumna, Dr. Alisa Stewart, ’06, joined IASK for another medical mission to Haiti just prior to Seeley’s trip. Seeley said she was looking to volunteer for a medical mission, and had contacted Stewart before the earthquake struck Haiti. Stewart posted the need for pharmacists to join the IASK team on Facebook.

“Medical missions allow me to see other parts of the world, other cultures and work with amazing and talented teams of health care professionals, all while helping improve someone’s health,” she said. “It was an extraordinary experience.”