By John Carruthers, assistant editor, April 01, 2014
In the course of reading a local free publication, Vero Beach, Fla. dermatologist Neil Heskel, MD, became interested in an article about a local doctor who had begun doing volunteer work through the Haiti Clinic, a nonprofit group that strives to raise the standard of health care in the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation. Soon after, Dr. Heskel picked up the phone, offered his services, and has been involved with the clinic for seven years, including serving as president of the organization from October 2009 through March 2012.
"I was taken right away. I knew this was why I went to medical school. These are hardworking people living incredibly difficult lives. being able to deliver care to them is a very important goal of mine."
- On his first visit to the clinic, then located in the densely populated Cité Soleil, Dr. Heskel was, by his own recollection, unaware of the level of medical need. “My first trip, I thought I’d just be a dermatologist. I didn’t even bring a stethoscope,” he said. “When you’re down there, you’re doing everything, because there are just so many unmet needs.”
- During his involvement, Dr. Heskel has traveled to Haiti 18 times, usually with a group that includes a handful of physicians, a nurse or two, lay volunteers, and occasionally a dentist. They travel to support the clinic’s full-time Haitian physician, and offer clinical care nonstop for three days.
- “You’ll see cases of malaria and AIDS, but mostly the dermatology is what we see here in the U.S. — only more so,” Dr. Heskel said. “You don’t see a little ringworm, you see a huge case of ringworm. You don’t see a little scabies, you see scabies that’s been going on for a year. Everything is amplified because many of them don’t ever see a doctor. You see gigantic problems that could have been snuffed out much earlier.”
- In addition to patient need, lack of supplies, and the need to continually raise funds, the Haiti Clinic has faced challenges from violence, relocating in 2013 to rural Boacia in response to armed threats directed at clinic volunteers when it was in Cité Soleil. The move, however, allowed the clinic to set up in a newly built school that shares resources with a number of schools that ring the Port-au-Prince area. The clinic has also recently received a significant grant from a technology company to build a telemedicine network capable of connecting the clinic’s full-time local physician to Haiti Clinic volunteer staff.
- The newfound stability, Dr. Heskel said, has allowed the clinic to make a noticeable improvement in local health. “Now that we’ve been there for a while, people aren’t dying in front of our eyes from cholera and other diseases, we’re going to more chronic diseases — diabetes, hypertension, and such, as well as acute infections.
To nominate a physician, visit www.aad.org/membersmakingadifference.
To see an online-only slideshow of Dr. Heskel's photos from Haiti, click here.