UTMB physical therapist Rod Welsh works with a Haitian child who was injured as a result of the earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince on January. 12.
There was a moment when Rodney “Rod” Welsh and a planeload of compatriots stood on the tarmac at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince when plans seemed to unravel.
“We were told that we were going to stay at the airport,” Welsh said. “It was dark. Nobody seemed to know what was going on.”
Back in Miami that morning, “We were told not to leave the Haitian airport and to stay together in groups.”
Then, at about 9 p.m., a line of trucks appeared.
“It was chaos. We were told to leave the airport and they were saying we should get in the back of trucks that had driven up. There was a lot of concern with that.” It was not part of the plan.
Finally, someone explained that the group of approximately 70 medical volunteers would stay at the airport, but not near the terminal. The trucks were there to ferry them to a makeshift hospital on the edge of the airport where they would be housed in large tents.
Not long after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, Welsh wanted to help. A physical therapist at UTMB, he learned from the American Physical Therapy Association of the need for therapists to help the injured. Colleagues told him about Project Medishare at the University of Miami, which organized twice-weekly flights to Haiti for medical volunteers. The organization has been working on health care issues in Haiti since 1994. The Web site is http://www.projectmedishare.org/.
A career switcher, Welsh was a deputy with the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years before turning to health care. He earned his PT degree in 2004 from UTMB’s School of Health Professions. He also holds a degree in occupational therapy from the school.
Working mostly with injured children during his week in Haiti, Welsh said, “We saw children with head injuries, and broken bones that weren’t healing because of the lack of antibiotics and the appalling living conditions. Many of the children had significant needs but we knew that follow-up care was very limited. Whatever we could give them was probably better health care than they would have received otherwise.”
It didn’t help that the huge supply tent was in disarray.
“The supply tent was huge and a big mess,” he said. “There were things like a big box of romance novels, in English. There were a lot of used shoes that you had to dig through to find a match. But it was hard to find anything. What they really need are braces, splinting materials, clothing.”
Welsh said he was chagrinned by the positive reaction of colleagues and friends when he returned home on March 8. The attention embarrassed him, but the experience was humbling.
“It was an amazing experience. The collaboration with physicians, nurses, pharmacists was phenomenal. Everyone was there for a common goal of helping. It was surprising to see physicians covering for nurses, feeding babies.”
Welsh, who’s working on his doctorate in rehabilitation sciences offered jointly by the School of Health Professions and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, encourages other medical professionals to volunteer. He and his wife, Karen, live in Santa Fe. They have three school-aged children.
“They need everything in Haiti,” he said. “As a clinician, there are no boundaries. You have to rely on your expertise and creativity to do what’s best for the people. They don’t have health care as we know it and they are so grateful for the help. I consider myself a changed person. It’s a priceless reward for me.”
“This is my first time and it will not be the last,” he said.