The stories are heartbreaking, and the conditions severe, but for five years, Lynnfield opthamologist Vicki Kvedar and her daughter Julie have returned to Haiti on a medical mission.
The main goal of the annual mission to the Be Like Brit orphanage is to provide new glasses and eye exams to the children and staff. But given the lack of proper medical care in Haiti, the Kvedars and other volunteers face a heavier burden than just testing for glaucoma.
“Two or three years ago, we saw a baby with ichthyosis, which is a severe dry skin disease,” said Kvedar. “The treatment can be as easy as a special moisturizer, but her skin was so dry, her eyelids were pulled down.”
As part of the mission, the Kvedars were able to get some of the special moisturizer, but it quickly ran out as several other children began to show signs of the extreme dry skin condition.
With donations from the Village Pharmacy in Lynnfield and the Lexington Lions Club, among others, the Kvedars brought down a large box of the moisturizer during their most recent trip from Dec. 30 to Jan. 6.
“There was a 10-year-old girl who came in who was untreated because the moisturizer had run out,” said Kvedar. “We covered her from head to toe, and three days later she came back in and she looked so much better. She was so excited, she gave as all big hugs.”
Kvedar got involved with the Be Like Brit orphanage after hearing Britney Gengel’s father, Len, speak about the death of his daughter during the massive 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed 300,000 people. The orphanage on a mountaintop in Grand-Goave is home to 66 children.
“My first goal when I arrive is to see all 66 children in the orphanage, and then I will see the 100 workers,” Kvedar said. “They will bring in their friends and family, so basically, anyone who comes in the door, you treat.”
After providing medical care in the orphanage, Kvedar said she and her daughter will then head into the mountains and visit places where the people almost never see a doctor.
Returning to Haiti each year, Kvedar said progress can be hard to see, but that there is some there.
“There are enormous piles of garbage in the street and there’s garbage in the river beds because there is no service for it,” she said. With unemployment as high as 80 percent, and those who can find work earning as little as $2 per day, Kvedar said there is not much of a base for the country’s new president to raise taxes to pay for needed services like garbage collection, roads, hospitals, and police.
“In many ways, the orphanage is in better shape than the community,” she said. “It’s fun to see the children progress over the years. They have been taking English lessons, and now we get to use some of the children as translators.”
Kvedar said she and her daughter Julie, a 2009 Lynnfield High graduate who is studying law at the University of California, plan on returning to the Be Like Brit orphanage annually for the foreseeable future.
Those interested in donating to or volunteering for the Be Like Brit orphanage can find more information on its website at belikebrit.org.