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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 3, 2010

Kauai doctor back from Haiti mercy mission

By Paul C. Curtis
The Garden Island.

LIHU'E, Kauai No one could have blamed Dr. Ken Pierce if he just wanted to rest and relax in airline seats during the long flights from Haiti to Lihu'e.

Yet there he was, tending to an ill passenger while en route from Dallas to Honolulu, suggesting to the flight crew that the safest thing for the passenger would be to divert to Los Angeles so the passenger could get to a hospital quickly.

Wife and nurse Diane Pierce assisted the doctor in caring for the man, Ken Pierce said in an e-mail.

Diane, Ken and daughter Emily were on their way home to Kaua'i and Po'ipu after a month-long humanitarian medical mission in Haiti, the country ravaged by an earthquake in January.

"Our mission was successful," Ken Pierce said.

"We were asked to provide leadership and a strategy for starting a children's clinic and recovery hospital in conjunction with New Life Children's Home (newlife4kidz.org) with the support of Kaua'i Christian Fellowship," the Po'ipu church where the family worships.

"Generous donations of medical supplies, equipment, clothes, toys, and money (came) from the Kaua'i community," he said.

"Our goal was to start, stock and staff this facility, as well as develop a strategy for sustainability," and those goals were accomplished, he said.

"Upon our arrival (they left Kaua'i March 6) patients were being housed in tents, and clinical care was being provided in a makeshift clinical area with one exam table in the church structure," he said.

"Upon our departure our team had created a patient ward in the church that has the capacity for approximately 30 to 50 patients (depending on how many family members are staying with the patient) and a dedicated clinical exam and treatment area with three examination and treatment stations and a well-stocked pharmacy," he said.

"While the initial plan was to create a 'tent hospital,' that became less practical given the impending rainy season and logistics of getting running water and electricity to a tent facility," he said.

"The church ended up being a good spontaneous replacement given the circumstances."

"Even though we are home we are in frequent contact with New Life leadership and staff, and are continuing to participate in the active recruitment of medical volunteers to serve along with the full-time Haitian staff that I was able to recruit and put in place prior to our departure," he said.

Back on Kaua'i, in a telephone interview Friday Pierce said his entire family is still recovering from various illnesses running through Haiti. "It's just a nasty, dirty place. The reality is it's a nasty, dirty, impoverished place," he said.

Still, he'll go back again, as early as this summer, drawn by an undiminished desire to provide medical care to the most desolate of the desolate.

"You kind of have to be crazy, like us, to go back. It's a tough place to work," which made him hesitant to bring his daughter Emily with him, he said.

But after arriving and seeing the effect Emily, 17, had especially on the young patients rehabilitating under her care, he saw it was safe, and summoned his other daughter, Hannah, 18, to join them during her spring break from industrial-design studies at the Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design.

"That was something I didn't anticipate," he said of Emily's impact on the rehabilitation (including physical and emotional therapy) of the young patients, who immediately gravitated to the teenager.

"She worked hard and jumped right in," he said of Emily, whether it was as an operating-room assistant or simply by playing with and coloring with the youngsters.

Hannah, a Kaua'i High School graduate, served as pharmacy technician when she wasn't with patients, he said.

The mood of the patients, even young children with four or five pounds of metal in each leg keeping their shattered limbs intact, buoyed the entire family, he said.

"All day long it was just 'thank you, thank you, thank you,'" he said. There were never complaints from the patients, who were grateful for the care and attention, Ken Pierce said.

He sees Haiti with great opportunities for use of renewable-energy options, since installing them would cost less or around the same as replacing the infrastructure system destroyed by the earthquake.

Ken Pierce is medical director of Island Doctors On Call, iDOC, and may be reached at www.islanddocsoncall.com or toll-free at 1-888-316-DOCS (3627).