Geralyn Malsom's experience in Haiti has given her sleepless nights, but it also made her determined to return.
Malsom, a nurse at the Avera Eureka Health Center, spent a week in Jeremie, Haiti, volunteering with her husband, Jerome Malsom, and other colleagues from the Avera Medical Group. The trip was part of the Avera Haiti Mission, which is organized through the Haitian Health Foundation.
The Avera Medical Group has been sending volunteers to work in free clinics in Haiti for the past 10 years, Geralyn Malsom said. Avera pays stipends to help support missions if needed, said Patty Kirkpatrick, marketing and public relations director.
The terrible conditions they saw had a profound effect on the Malsoms, who live in Hosmer.
They saw families of eight living in the equivalent of a shed, Jerome Malsom said. Geralyn Malsom treated women who had such advanced breast cancer that it reached the skin's surface. She saw young children afflicted by ailments ranging from ringworm to pneumonia.
"I have trouble sleeping when I think about the health care workers who are there all year," Geralyn Malsom said.
Jerome Malsom said he felt like he was rotten and spoiled when they returned home after seeing such extreme poverty.
Geralyn Malsom said she spent three days working in three mountain clinics on the outskirts of Jeremie giving people physical exams, as well as instructions for self-examinations to check for breast cancer, which is a major problem in the area.
Some medical tests, such as Pap smear samples, are sent back to Avera St. Luke's Hospital in Aberdeen, where they are tested free of charge and sent back to the Haitian clinic, Kirkpatrick said.
Avera’s work with the Haitain Health Foundation has established the only Pap smear screening, diagnosis and treatment program in that part of Haiti, Kirkpatrick said.
Some of the people Geralyn Malsom treated had to walk for as much as 12 hours from their homes to the clinic, often with a child in tow, Geralyn Malsom said.
But rather than complain, the Haitians showered her and the other health workers with gratitude, she said. The patients dressed in the best clothes they owned, waited patiently for their turns and even sang songs in Creole to the volunteers, which amazed Malsom.
"They walked hours with their children, had been waiting who knows how long in 100-degree weather, and they sang us a song," she said.
She never understood the song's lyrics, but another volunteer interpreted it as: "If you have your health, you are rich," she said.
Malsom said she also volunteered at the Center of Hope in Jeremie, which treats pregnant women who have a high chance of complications during birthing.
Despite all the tragedies the couple saw in Jeremie, the kindness and gratitude of the Haitian people was so overwhelming that the couple feels compelled to volunteer again in Haiti, Geralyn Malsom said.
"We were told (by other people who had volunteered) that if we went once, we'd feel like we had to go back," she said.
Jerome Malsom said he and his wife have wanted to go on a mission trip since they married in 1975, but had to wait until their children grew up and it became feasible financially.
The couple is unable to make the next Avera Haitian Mission in October, but hopes to return in May, he said.
The Avera Medical Group has committed to two, one-week-long missions per year through the Haitain Health Foundation, one in May and one in October, Kirkpatrick said.
A group of volunteers that usually includes at least one physician travels to Haiti to work alongside local Haitain doctors at the clinic during each mission, she said.
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