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Locals head to Haiti to offer aid

How to help 

• The IRS has made a special provision that any donations received for Haitian relief will be deductible for 2009 taxes until March 1.

• O'Charley's will be participating in a ‘Haitian Dine Out’ where 10 percent of everybody’s check that night will go to the cause. Cross Point Christian Church are the people getting this started with the restaurants in Conyers. Call (770) 922-2280 for more information.

• Go online to during the week for more personal stories from Rockdale County residents about their stories and experiences involving the disaster in Haiti.

As she entered a pediatric tent in the General Hospital compound in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday, Alison Gaddis wondered how she would bear the overwhelming sound of the children’s cries. On their way to this area, her group passed by a student nursing building destroyed by the earthquake, the stench from decaying bodies was overpowering; a lone woman was praying and chanting amidst the rubble for a lost loved one.

"It was the most depressing sight I’ve ever seen… just horrific. When we first arrived, there were no doctors to be found and 60 children dirty, hungry, some injured, lying in urine with only two Haitian nurses on site," Gaddis said. Even the babies with mothers there were hungry because due to shock and dehydration their mothers were not able to breastfeed.

She didn’t dwell on the obstacles for long but instead began scavenging the hospital compound for formula. Finally, in a pre-op tent on the other side of the compound, she ran into a doctor who had discovered a random box with formula inside. She fed the babies with 10cc syringes. Within three hours, almost every child was asleep. For Gaddis, the most rewarding moment was the look of relief on a mother’s face when she realized her baby wasn’t about to die, but was just hungry and finally settled.

Gaddis, a former medical assistant and office manager at Cross Point Christian Church, and Wendy Zehner were two local members of a 15-man medical team sent by Haitian Christian Mission last week. Zehner, a children’s minister at Cross Point, has become a de facto medical team coordinator for HCM, an organization her mother was involved in founding 35 years ago. HCM sponsors 53 schools and six nutrition centers across Haiti and two medical clinics in Fond Parisien that send out mobile medical teams to surrounding villages.

For most of their stay, the team, comprised of doctors and nurses from the Atlanta area, Tennessee and Florida, worked in HCM’s two clinics in Fond Parisien, an hour and a half outside of Port-Au-Prince. According to Zehner, 250-400 patients, mostly refugees, have been coming to these clinics daily. Many of the cases are now secondary infectious diseases, such as tetanus and meningitis, but many reconstructive and general surgeries are still being performed in the clinic’s OR.

In addition to triage, Zehner’s role was "orchestrating doctors and supplies from different groups in and out of the Fond Parisien facility... a glorified gopher," she humbly states. A bright spot for Zehner was on Sunday when the mission’s church was bursting at the seams "with people singing and still trying to find God. Their resilience is amazing," she said.

Zehner and Gaddis had just been to Haiti in October on a mission trip and were originally scheduled to return the week after the earthquake to help build a soccer field and run soccer camps with RYSA’s Rafe Mauran. Their calling adapted to relief work after the tragic disaster. Zehner plans to return in March.

Even as she schedules the weekly medical teams from all over the country departing for Haiti for HCM, Zehner facilitated a local nurse at Rockdale Medical Center, Paule Boubert, on her quest to locate her mother and three-year-old son trapped in Haiti. Boubert hadn’t had any luck with the Red Cross or other larger groups, but Zehner was able to get her there through HCM. Boubert found her mother and son fairly unscathed.

Gaddis sums up her first experience in October that she says still held true this week, "Although they’re a devastated and poor nation, they love life and are so appreciative of anything you give them — including the non-material things such as a hug, a hand shake, an ear to listen, or playing games with them. As far as danger, I never felt or thought about it… people would say ‘aren’t you scared?’ I would just say ‘No, I have no doubts as to where God wants me to be and where I want to be.’"