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A little care goes a long way

Group finds a way to fill a giant need in Haiti

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published May 10, 2007, 3:08 p.m.)

The Haitian man's face was swollen so severely that he was barely breathing. An abscessed tooth-or more likely teeth-had progressed in a month's time where the swelling had broken the 29-year-old man's jaw in several places and was obstructing his airway.

"We gave him strong antibiotics," said Cyndy Schuetz of Delavan, who had traveled to Haiti to provide desperately needed care to people who have none. But she wasn't hopeful about the outcome.

"We had to basically tell him that there was nothing we could do for him and that he was probably going to die."

But when she returned the following September, the man was there waiting. "So the first dose of antibiotics-that we nearly didn't give him because we didn't think it would do any good-saved his life," she said.

The bad teeth could now be removed and the man was able to recover fully.

Stories like this are what motivate people like Cyndy Schuetz and her husband Tom.

"We get out much more than we put into it," said Cyndy Schuetz.

Since 1998 Tom and Cyndy Schuetz have been traveling to La Montagne, Haiti, on medical missions.

Their missions focus on-but are far from limited to-providing medical care.

"We started going with a parish in Peoria, Ill., in 1998," she began. "We were sent to this village and we ran out of medication five days early. The people there were so absolutely wonderful and appreciative that when we got back we formed our own non-profit group."

The Schuetzes named their group Friends of the Children and have made 16 two-week missions to date. Groups of seven to 10 people-physicians, dentists, nurses, paramedics, homemakers, students and maintenance personnel-make up the teams.

They travel to La Montagne, which means "the mountain." It is not a city but more an area with a population of 16,000-20,000. People support themselves through agriculture with the men working the fields and the women taking the goods miles away to market each day.

Haiti is about 600 miles southeast of Miami, Fla. It's the poorest country with the highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It's the size of the state of Massachusetts with a population of about 8.5 million people-781 per square mile. Statistically there is just one physician for every 4,000 people, but in most areas there are no doctors at all, according to MSN Encarta Encyclopedia.

Mike Goodman and Judy Haselhoef of Williams Bay joined the Schuetzes on most recent mission, returning to the States just weeks ago.

"It's very rocky, very beautiful very farmland," said Haselhoef. "We were up at the top of the mountain and you can see farmlands in the distance, then you see the ocean. We'd pay millions to have houses with that view."

While it is a beautiful place, there is next to no medical care available and the people there suffer terribly because of it.

"There's a small clinic in the area but the people there are not well trained at all," Schuetz said. "We've seen horrendous things come out of the clinic. Infections with just a band-aid on them and not cleaned out. They have no anesthetic. And they also charge money for it and the people have no money to pay for it."

In the time that they're there, the group of 10 volunteers see about 3,000 people for medical and dental treatment.

Dr. John Frandolig, of Linn Township, has taken the trip about 10 times, offering his skills as a dentist.

"Every morning there's between 150 and 300 people just to see the dentist," Schuetz said. "He can see about 30 to 40 people a day."

Every one of the hundreds of people who come each day sincerely needs to be seen, but Frandolig must choose among those he can help from those whose conditions have gotten so bad it's too late to help them; or those whose conditions are not as urgent as others.

Typical problems they see are hatchet wounds, malnutrition, scabies, infected wounds, intestinal problems, parasites and tuberculosis.

Lack of clean water is the reason many get sick. So fundraisers at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Delavan made it possible for Friends of the Children to buy water-purifying systems for the local school and the Missionaries of Charity.

A large amount of their time is spent on education. Because most adults are illiterate, wound treatment, nutrition, medication use and prevention are things they've never learned about.

Focus on help

Politics and religion are two topics that Friends of the Children make an effort to keep out of conversation. While they are a faith-based group, they are also non-denominational.

Politics have been a big problem for Haiti and the group, even causing three missions to be cancelled in the past. But last year's change in Haitian government leadership will hopefully lead to better economic opportunities for Haitians, or at the very least, safe journeys for Friends of the Children.

The majority of Haitians practice a mix of Christianity and voodoo. Some of their practices are confusing and others are outright not healthy. But their purpose is not to judge, just to help.

"Mothers wrap the newborn babies' abdomens very tight around the umbilical cord so they don't get 'outies' (belly buttons)," Haselhoef said. "It's not safe or a good idea for the babies, but that is the culture."

"A woman who had been pregnant had a palm leaf on her stomach. I didn't ask why; I just dealt with trying to teach her proper nutrition."

"I haven't a clue what that was for," Schuetz adds.

The pull is strong

"We keep going back because the need is so great and the people are so appreciative," Schuetz said. "After the first time, our hearts were pulled right into it and there was no doubt we were going back. The people would never get this care anywhere else."

One goal they'd like to achieve is longer and more frequent missions. This can be accomplished with more volunteers and donations. Missions are scheduled for Sept. 13 and Feb. 8, 2008.

Other area volunteers who have taken at least one trip to Haiti are Kathy Speigelhoff, Deb DeBuck, Casey Himebauch and Tom Reichert.

Friends of the Children are always looking for volunteers, especially those with medical, dental or construction abilities. And as follows, they are also always accepting donations.

"I assure, 99.9 percent of all donations go directly to the care, medication and equipment we need," Schuetz said. "The only other thing we ever bought other than those items was letterhead."

For more information, visit www.friendsmedicalmission.org, write to Friends of the Children, 221 W. Geneva St., PO Box 775, Delavan, WI 53115 or call 728-2351.

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