Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Feb. 19, 2001

Former resident providing health care in Haiti

By Patrice Salmon

Mary Ann Laxen, daughter of Sophia Laxen of Winsted had been working for the past 10 years, to help provide medical care to the poor in Haiti, and to teach others about tropical medicine.

She works with a group, made up of faculty members of the University of North Dakota Physician Assistant Program, (UND PA) students, and a Moorhead State nursing student, who come together to provide medical care in the city of Jeremie, Haiti.

The city has a population of about 37,000, and is located about 150 miles west of Port au Prince.

Laxen is the director of the UND Physicians Assistant Program and has worked intimately with the Haitian Health Foundation (HHF) since 1991.

The HHF is a not-for-profit health and human services organization founded in the mid 1980's to serve the poor in isolated, mountainous western portion of Haiti.

The organization is volunteer, grass roots humanitarian organization that provides outpatient medical care, eye and dental care, prenatal, postnatal, and pediatric care for the poor of Jeremie and the surrounding villages.

The mission of the foundation is to bring improved health, survival, and hope to more than 200,000 of the hemisphere's poorest people.

Mary Ann's first worked in Jeremie in 1991. She worked with health agents to develop a census of the people in three districts of the city and surrounding areas, and also provided primary health care.

In 1995, as a faculty member of the Saint Louis University PA program, of St. Louis, Missouri , she passed the knowledge she had gained in Haiti on to her university students by providing a three week long clinical experience in tropical medicine.

This experience continues. To date, thirteen PA students have worked in Jeremie over the last five years.

The activities of the clinical experience follow, as relayed by one of the participants.

On the evening of Nov. 17, 2000, UND PA faculty (Mary Ann Laxen and Annette Larson of Grand Forks, N.D.), five UND PA students, and one Moorhead State nursing student met in a hotel in Miami, Fla.

The members, representing the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Iowa, and Florida were preparing for the flight for Jeremie, Haiti.

The next morning, wearing UND School of Medicine tee shirts, and carrying more than 800 pounds of supplies, the group boarded a plane for Port au Prince, Haiti.

We had a 24 hour layover in Port au Prince and had to quickly adjust to the tropical weather and the sounds of the city (roosters crowing and dogs barking).

We arrived in Jeremie the afternoon of Nov. 19, and quickly began preparing for the next two weeks. Supplies were organized and various duties were delegated to the group.

Objectives for the clinical experience were reviewed and assignments were made.

Experiences over the next two weeks included providing primary care to patients a the HHf clinic in Jeremie as well as five mountain villages.

We would visit schools and orphanages to provide fluoride treatment to children ages 6-12. We would participate in refeeding clinics, observing the teaching at mother's clubs, and learn about the Save a Family program.

Our differential diagnosis list included, but was not limited to malaria, typhoid fever, TB, HIV, parasites, bacterial pneumonia, malnutrition, kwarsika, scabies, impetigo, anthrax, and ringworm.

The students and faculty worked closely with the Haitian workers, sharing information and methodologies.

This rapport enhanced the cultural expertise of the group, and provided continuing education for the Haitian professionals.

Hundreds of volunteers venture to Jeremie to serve from one week to several years.

Many come back each year, and when they return home, they become ambassadors for the work the Foundation is doing in Haiti.

"For two weeks in November, eight of us became such ambassadors. We shared with the poor and broken and, in the process, achieved a renewed appreciation for all the blessings that we possess."

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