Helping Haiti

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 20, 2010

News of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti on Jan. 12 shook one local man to his core.

Thomas M. Easley, a graduate of Pleasant Home High School, is a Clinical Herbalist and internationally renowned lecturer on Traditional Western Herbalism. He has a small herbal clinic in Andalusia and helps at his family’s health food store in Pace, Fla.

His passion for helping took him to poverty-stricken countries like Haiti. Those experiences lead him to found Herbs for Orphans, a non-profit organization whose mission is — “to provide nutritional solutions for underprivileged youth in poverty-stricken countries worldwide. It also seeks to raise public awareness of the physical and socioeconomic repercussions of malnutrition…”

“Two years ago I went (to Haiti) for first time,” Easley said. “After that I formed an organization to provide aid for orphans. We work with four orphanages in Haiti and one of those is the only HIV orphanage.”

The orphanages are located in Port au Prince, the area devastated by the earthquake.

When he heard about the disaster, Easley tried to contact people on the island.

“I was watching the news when it (the earthquake) happened, and I thought about people I know and love,” he said.

“I started calling and sending e-mails and didn’t get any response. That night a friend called and asked what I was going to do. I told her, ‘I’m getting bags packed.’”

The friend works with Common Grounds Health Clinic in New Orleans and put him in contact with Artistic Evolution out of New York City.

“We took our first team over a week after the earthquake.”

The teams were made up of EMTs and WEMTs (Wilderness trained EMTs). Once in Haiti, Easley learned none of the people at the orphanages were hurt.

“Two of the orphanages were destroyed and one was damaged,” he said.

“Now all the kids stay in one (orphanage). Amazingly no one was injured.”

The timing of the quake, he said, was a blessing.

“The earthquake happened at about 5 p.m.,” he said. “It’s cool that time of the day so everyone is outside. If it had been two hours later, there would probably have been more deaths,”

One team member, a Haitian from New York City, acted as a translator when the group landed in the midst of the tragedy.

“We started working as first responders and did that for the first five days, operating mobile clinics in tent cities,” he said. “We saw open fractures, huge gaping wounds and crush injuries. We partnered with other groups and worked with an ER doctor out of Alaska and some Australian doctors.”

“The first night I stayed indoors; then another earthquake (aftershock) happened, and I stayed outdoors after that,” he said. “This was my first experience with an earthquake.”

Easley said the devastation was unbelievable. “At best Haiti was a hell hole before the quake,” he said. “I’ve traveled a lot and this is one of the worst third world countries. There is such poverty, and this tragedy makes that even worse.”

But, Easley didn’t think about that those first days because the teams worked long exhausting hours.

“There were long days living off coffee and Gatorade,” he said. “After the first week most of the people with trauma found help or died, and we did more of post-op management. We helped set up a post-op hospital at the compound.”

While it was chaotic in Haiti, Easley said the news overplayed it.

“We didn’t have trouble, and we walked into 20 tent cities,” he said. “The heads of the tent cities organized the people and provided security. They were just glad to have help.”

In addition to working in Port au Prince, the teams moved into smaller communities filled with people fleeing the city.

“Places that weren’t damaged saw huge numbers of people who fled from Port au Prince,” he said.

“One of these communities, for example, is a four-hour drive from Port au Prince, and it had been eight months since they’d seen a doctor.”

While the tragedy was overwhelming, Easley said the spirit of the Haitian people was strong.

“They are a grateful and amazing people, and this trip reinforced that for me,” he said. “How people that live in appalling conditions can be so loving and appreciative — they lived through what is probably the worse natural disaster as far as amount of people killed and were more than willing to give anything they had to help out.”

Easley said two experiences illustrate the depth of their compassion.

“I held the broken femur of a 96-year-old woman while the doctor improvised a traction splint without medication,” he said. “She started singing in this soulful voice. They translated for us, and she was singing Lord have mercy, but not mercy for her. She asked for help her people.

“In the mist of her pain, she is thinking of others and that is the spirit we saw time and again.”

Another day a younger Haitian impressed Easley.

“We were riding in a beat-up truck and kids were jumping on the back begging,” he said.

“Kids are bad about begging; and this boy jumped on and said, ‘give me a dollar.’ I asked why, and he said I’m hungry.

“I told him I didn’t have food, and I said, ‘no you give me a dollar.’ He said why, and I told him, ‘I’m here giving medical relief.’ He pulled a dollar out and tried his best to give it to me.”

Easley is home, but he hopes people won’t forget Haiti.

“The UN said it will take 10 years for Haiti to get to the point it was before quake and that was horrible,” he said. “Even before the earthquake, mothers fixed mud paddies to fill kids’ bellies. There is death from poverty occurring in lots of places, but this just 700 miles south of Miami.”

Two Mutual Aid Disaster Relief teams remain in Haiti and Easley plans to return.

“I spent last month’s mortgage on this trip, but when I catch up on bills I’m going back, hopefully before the rainy season,” he said. “It will be bad then, and we’d like to be operating rural clinics.”

Easley said Americans can help Haiti and his group appreciates donations.

“There will be a huge need for follow-up care for a long time,” he said. “People need prosthetics for example. There are probably tens of thousands of amputees. “We are moving into a rebuilding stage and want to be a part of that effort. We plan to continue medical relief work with doctors from the Pensacola area.”

Easley said donations get to the people who need help.

“Our group is big on transparency,” he said, “and 100 percent goes to supplies or provides for teams going over. Nobody takes a salary; it is all volunteer time.”

Easley said he wants people to know Haitians only want a safe and healthy life.

“In Haiti 98 percent of the people are Christians and live lives of poverty Jesus talked about,” he said. “These people embody the giving spirit of Jesus more than any people I know. Giving when you are hungry is something different and they gave.”

For information about Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and Herbs for Orphans or to donate, contact Easley at 334-804-6830 or