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Baton Rouge orthopedic surgeon Dr. Craig Greene said the sea of victims in Haiti who need surgery was “just overwhelming” when he arrived in the earthquake-ravaged country.
“You just needed to take it all in,” said Greene, who returned from Haiti earlier this week. “It was trying to figure out what we needed to do next while at the same time we were trying to get folks taken care of.”
Greene is trying to put together volunteer medical teams — generally six-member teams of doctors, nurses and physical and occupational therapists — to go to Haiti, work for a week, and then be replaced by another team.
His efforts are among the many Haiti relief plans being coordinated by Baton Rouge area volunteers.
Greene said his effort, nicknamed the Greene Team, is just now beginning to find a rhythm.
“But there are still gaps to fill,” he said.
One of the primary focuses of the team is to not only perform surgery on the victims — many of whom had bone-crushing wounds — but to also offer follow-up care, he said.
“We don’t want to just operate on them and then leave,” he said. “There is a lot of follow-up care these people need in order to get their lives back.
Greene is headed back to Haiti on Sunday to fine-tune his efforts, which have turned into a family and local community affair.
His mother, Cathy Greene, who is fluent in French, is also headed to Haiti this week.
She is spearheading the BR2Haiti project, which is trying to recruit medical team volunteers and get them desperately needed medical supplies.
Stacie Greene, Cathy Greene’s sister-in-law, is serving as the medical supply coordinator.
“I’m trying to procure the supplies, get them packaged and just get them to Haiti,” she said. “We’ve heard of horror stories of this stuff just sitting on the tarmac with no one getting them.”
Stacie Greene said she is trying to work on clearing barriers, particularly bureaucratic barriers.
One of the problems the group is encountering is that U.S. Customs agents will allow them to ship only $2,500 worth of medications per airplane.
“We’re working hard to get them to lift that limit,” Stacie Greene said. “$2,500 worth of medicine is not very much, especially for a patient who has had surgery.”
The group is trying to send one plane a week to Haiti loaded with medical supplies.
Warner Anderson, assistant dean of international education and a Spanish professor at Southern University, and Kristan Gordon, coordinator for service learning at Southern, initiated a project to raise supplies for Haitians just days after the earthquake.
“We focused mainly on the needs of the children,” Anderson said. “They are always the most vulnerable in a disaster.”
Anderson and Gordon collected more than 400 boxes of baby formula, food, lotion, wipes and disposable diapers, feminine hygiene products, hand sanitizer, insect repellent, clothes and shoes.
“We had an enormous response from churches, organizations on campus and individuals,” he said.
But then it came time to start figuring out how to get the boxes shipped to Haiti.
“And that’s when I found Stacie Greene,” he said.
He learned from Greene that U.S. Customs requires all of the supplies to be packaged in clear plastic bags, sealed with gray duct tape, labeled by content and then weighed.
The job of repacking 400 large boxes was enormous, but volunteers stepped forward from the university and Victory Baptist Church in Plaquemine to help.
“It was a daunting task, but we’re committed to doing this,” Anderson said.
The bags will be delivered to BR2Haiti, and Stacie Greene will have them loaded onto one of the project’s donated airplanes and shipped to Haiti.
Julie Baxter, an attorney with Rhorer Law Firm, is president of the new 25-member Capital City Rotary Club.
“We raised $1,000 to buy a Shelter Box,” Baxter said.
But then her club asked the other two Rotary Clubs in Baton Rouge to raise money as a citywide Rotary effort.
Between the Capital Area, Baton Rouge and Sunrise Rotary clubs, they’ve raised $14,550, which will pay for nearly 15 Shelter Boxes — which include tents, stoves, cooking pots, plates and utensils and food to shelter and feed 10 people for 30 days.
Virgin Airlines has agreed to fly the Shelter Boxes to Haiti.
“Shelter Boxes are basically the best relief you can send to a disaster stricken area,” Baxter said. “It provides 10 people with shelter and with the stove and the food it comes with, you can prepare meals.”
She said Baton Rouge residents were generous when the group asked for donations.
“Baton Rouge never balks at giving immediately when something happens,” she said. “I think it’s the time when you feel the proudest of this city.”