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Saturday, October 23, 2021

UCD professor returns from two weeks in Haiti

Standing in front of a picture of an earthquake survivor in Haiti, UC Davis cell biology and anatomy professor Douglas Gross called her “the happiest most delightful little girl.” The girl wanted people in America to see her picture. Her request came true as her smiling photo looks upon a group of UCD students and community members.

“I am very compelled to tell this story and making a conscious effort to not let people forget about this,” Gross said.

After two weeks in Haiti, where a 7.0 earthquake hit the country on Jan. 12, Gross returns to UCD to share his experience lending medical aid in a series of slide show presentations and lectures.

The quake hit Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, destroying most of its buildings, including hospitals and homes. The quake hit at approximately 5 p.m., a time when many people were in their homes, killing more than 230,000 people.

Gross, who is a pediatrician at the UCD Medical Center, and a team from South Carolina treated 2,000 people in Haiti with injuries ranging from dehydration to compartment syndrome – a syndrome usually resulting in amputation.

Many of the treatments and procedures Gross and his team administered were in field hospitals where stretchers were laid across black supply boxes.

Kamal Yackzan, a resident scholar at UCD, said he admires the courage of the volunteers and the way the whole world came together to help Haiti.

“The moving part is the human factor, and you wonder how they are going to survive,” Yackzan said.

Of those 2,000 people treated, all were homeless and all had lost a family member as the result of the earthquake, Gross said.

The “pretty austere” conditions and limited supplies would not deter Gross who has made no less then a dozen trips to countries around the world. These countries include Nicaragua, Guatemala and Africa, to give his medical aid and expertise.

Gross began as an UCD assistant professor in 1979 and has continued teaching for the last 30 years. But he went back to medical school to become a pediatrician after volunteering at Alternative Recreation – a recreational and socialization program for developmentally disabled children

It was a chance meeting on the UC Davis campus, with an African man raising money for a Christian organization that would lead Gross to the first of his trips to provide medical aid to other countries.

“He asked, ‘Will you come with me?’ I had never even been to Canada! I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I was supposed to be there, this is what I’m supposed to do,” Gross said.

With plans to go back to Kenya in May, Gross has nonetheless not given up continuing to recount the struggles that Haiti is facing and will face with the upcoming rainy season.

Pheng Vang, a senior biological science major, was very impressed with how Gross emphasized in his presentation keeping the crisis in Haiti current.

“I liked how he said we need to talk about it so it does not vanish. I believe that that is a very important message and we need to do something,” Vang said.

The rain, which is due to fall within two months, will not only exacerbate the problems of homelessness but will also play host to a variety of illnesses such as dysentery, said Gross.

“I just hope and pray for the best. Hope for rebuilding,” Yacksan said.

Gross will be giving another lecture entitled “Medical Relief in Haiti” tonight at 8 p.m. in Kleiber Hall.

For those interested in helping with fundraising on campus for relief efforts in Haiti, e-mail John Gunel for more information, at johngunel@gmail.com.

For a complete list of organizations that are helping in Haiti visit charitynavigator.org.

JESSY WEI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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