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Healing hands for Haiti
Father, daughter continue help for island nation
David Smith and his daughter, Samantha, provide medical attention for a Haitian child. - photo by Submitted
Samantha Smith sat in Starbucks on Thursday texting with manicured nails on her iPhone.

A week before, the 18-year-old sat in blistering heat using her hands to dress wounds and take temperatures of hundreds of Haitians waiting in line for medical attention.

The West Forsyth High School senior traveled with her father, David Smith, on a medical mission trip to help some of the millions of people who were shaken by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the island nation on Jan. 12.

They traveled along with two other locals in Gainesville-based Conscience International, meeting up with other medical volunteers in Haiti.

Each day at about 6:30 a.m., they set up an outdoor clinic in a different place near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

The group would treat and see people until supplies, medications or donated items ran out that day. That usually happened at about 3:30 p.m.

David Smith works as an emergency room doctor at Northside Hospital-Forsyth, but the setting in this country was far different from his daily routine.

“It’s not as severe as you see in the emergency room, right?” Samantha Smith asked her dad.

Most of the major medical emergencies in Haiti have been treated or taken to hospitals by now, he said, which made individual cases less immediate.

But the pair did see hundreds of malnourished children, most with parasites, swollen stomachs and thin arms and legs. Several still had wounds, some of those infected with afflictions like gangrene.

Treatments became more difficult because of a lack of proper equipment.

The group had a makeshift clinic covered by tarps with a waiting area filled with benches and a pharmacy, “which is basically a chair in the corner of an area,” David Smith said.

Conditions were terrible in the city, he said, where he saw thousands of tents shoved together and people living on the streets.

“[The need] is huge and it’s going to be ongoing,” he said. “This is a very poor country that had terrible problems going on with bad infrastructure, lack of medical care. Now it’s just escalated terribly.”

Several Americans are still heading to Haiti to offer help, but the Smiths said they saw them mostly on the plane rides, not while in the country.

The group stayed at a Haitian church with volunteers from South America, Africa and England.

Living off small portions of red beans, rice, granola bars and oatmeal at the mission visitor location, the Smiths and other visitors ate better than many Haitians and still lost weight during the week.

“Nobody complained. Nobody cared what they had. If they skipped a meal, they didn’t worry about it. It was about getting in there and helping,” David Smith said. “Their Christian strength and faith was amazing.”

Several locals who lost their homes or families also volunteer doing chores at the church in exchange for a place to stay.

The father and daughter spent time with those people, learning prayer songs in Creole and Spanish in the morning and bonding with the group at night.

Samantha Smith enjoyed exchanging cultures, such as learning the song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Creole and then teaching it to the Haitians in English.

She met two men in their early 20s who weren’t able to attend their university classes because the building had been destroyed.

One, who wanted to be a fashion designer, asked her to model the wedding dress he had created.

The other hoped to be a doctor.

“He said that we were his inspiration because he wanted to help out his country like we helped out his country,” she said.

Before leaving, he gave her a hair clip with the nation’s flag and “Haiti” written on it, along with a thank you note.

Samantha Smith aspires to work in medicine someday herself.

The trip “influenced me in how a medical field helps people,” she said, adding that the thankfulness of Haiti’s residents increased her desire to work in medicine.

“When we would be driving to the clinic, the kids would smile and wave as we passed,” she said. “A lot of the people were really happy even though they had nothing, and they were really thankful for our help.”

Coming back to the states really put life in a different perspective for the duo.

“You get caught up in doing something ... and then you start to think about what the Haiti people are doing,” Samantha Smith said, comparing her air conditioned classroom to the people stranded on the sweltering streets.

David Smith said his daughter had always wanted to go on a mission trip, but she wanted it to be something that would really make a difference.

He said watching his daughter help with patients made him proud, much like the feeling he gets from being a doctor.

“It fills your soul when you have something to give to others,” he said.