While the world watched terrifying television reports of the aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, MATC student Ray Moon and his wife Donna sprang into action, soliciting medical supplies and arranging to fly to the site of the destruction.
Working with the Haitian and Caribbean American Organization of Texas (HACAOT), Moon and his wife, who graduated from MATC's Registered Nursing Associate Degree program in 1975, have been volunteering their services on medical missions to Cap-Haiten on the northern coast of Haiti for many years. Each November, they travel to Cap-Haiten with a group of medical personnel from the Austin Medical Center in Austin, Minn., and two other volunteers. HACAOT is a nonprofit organization of Haitians who immigrated to the United States and want to assist the people of their homeland.
When members of the group learned about the earthquake, they rushed to get permission from their employers to take time off to fly to Port-au-Prince on a weeklong medical humanitarian mission. Despite extreme logistical complications in attempting to land in Port-au-Prince, they managed to arrive in two groups, bringing along about 2,000 pounds of prescription medicine donated by the Austin Medical Center and an anonymous donor from La Crosse, Wis.
Urgency in shipping and travel arrangements
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division helped organize the Haitan people as they came to the sites for help.
Volunteers clean wounds for injured Haitians. FedEx worker Chris Kazanecki is pictured far right.
This trip was different from their usual November missions, not only because of their destination, but also because of the urgency in obtaining medical supplies and arranging for quick shipping and travel. An operations manager for FedEx, Moon's work experience was helpful because he knows shipping methods and knows people who could help expedite the group's travel.
With help from several friends, the Moons organized and packaged the donated medicine and headed for Miami, hoping to get a flight to Port-au-Prince.
The first plane they secured could carry only the medical personnel and about 450 pounds of medicine. Moon and FedEx co-worker Chris Kazanecki flew to Haiti two days later -- on Jan. 24 -- with the additional 1,500 pounds of medicine.
Volunteers set up camp in Port-au-Prince. Actor and activist Sean Penn, who financed
the food and water for the volunteers, is pictured in the upper left corner of the photo.
Sean Penn and 82nd Airborne aid the volunteers
The HACAOT volunteers were paired up with a group of five Israeli doctors and placed under the protection of the 82nd Airborne Division. Actor Sean Penn sponsored the base camp, paying for their food and water and helping to coordinate efforts. "He is an ordinary guy who just cares more about people than his celebrity status," Moon said of Penn. "He did his very best to take care of us and keep us safe."
The group traveled with a convoy of military vehicles. The first and last trucks in the convoy were Humvees with gun turrets. Each truck carrying volunteers had a minimum of three armed soldiers on board. The group set up "tents" (wooden poles covered by sheets or tablecloths with no shelter from rain or sun) in different places each day and waited for the sick and wounded to come for help. Word spread quickly. According to Moon, within an hour of establishing a location, at least 100 people were waiting in line for help. One day, they treated more than 500 people.
"Rubble and toppled buildings were on every street," Moon said. "People had decided to take over the streets with mattresses or whatever. They were afraid to go back into their homes. The odors with no bathrooms and the smell of rotting bodies were overwhelming. We could hardly bear it even though we were wearing masks."
"Donna and I both feel very blessed to have been able to do what
we did and grateful for the people on our team. It was so rewarding."
Cared for more than 1,300 Haitians
The Moons were in charge of dispensing the medicines. They worked from the back of trucks or standing on the rubble of collapsed buildings. "We saw all kinds of problems, including typhoid, HIV, respiratory problems," said Moon. "We didn't do amputations. We didn't have the equipment for that, and the 82nd Airborne Division took the most severely injured patients to Mercy Ships. We couldn't set arms and legs, but we did a lot of splinting limbs." Moon estimates that the group cared for more than 1,300 Haitians during their stay.
"The Israeli doctors were amazed that we were so well stocked with medication," Moon said. "We were able to fulfill every request for medication, either with exactly what they asked for or a close substitute." Penn told them that they were the best stocked and organized of the four missionary groups he worked with.
Medicines were organized and dispensed from the rubble of destroyed buildings or from the back of trucks.
Typical scene of collapsed buildings in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake.
Moon said one of the most heartbreaking parts of the mission was facing the mothers, fathers and children who begged them to help dig relatives out of the rubble. Unfortunately, they were not equipped to help in that way.
Normally, only members of humanitarian missions are allowed to shower because there is so little water in Haiti. The only source of shower water is rainwater, so military personnel are allowed only to use baby wipes, rather than showering. At one point, five members of the military body recovery detail were given special permission to shower. The volunteers were particularly struck by the stories they heard from those soldiers. "I can't even discuss the horror stories they told," Moon said.
Donna and Ray Moon work in the makeshift pharmacy in Port-au-Prince.
Old doors were used for shelves.
Strapped to floor of cargo plane
On Jan. 29, the group headed to Port-au-Prince for departure, with no idea of how they would return to the U.S. After waiting five hours in the sun, they were told they could board a C-17 military cargo plane. Only the oldest and most ill patients were given the only seats on the plane. Everyone else was strapped to the floor of the plane with cargo straps and flew all the way back to Orlando that way. "You got to know your neighbor real fast," Moon said. "We were just appreciative for what we had." They were met by the Red Cross and Homeland Security, which supplied them with food and water.
"Donna and I both feel very blessed to have been able to do what we did and grateful for the people on our team," Moon said. "It was so rewarding."
Moon plans to retire from FedEx in April 2012. He recently started working toward a pharmacy technician diploma degree at MATC, so he would have a way to supplement his income in a new career after his retirement if he choses to do so. He also believes that the training he receives as a pharmacy technician will help him with future medical mission trips to Haiti.
For more information on the Pharmacy Technician diploma program, see: http://matc.edu/student/offerings/Pharmacy%20Tech.html