Laura Hagen, RN and trained midwife, was working part time at Mariner’s Hospital when the catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake shattered the Haiti’s fragile foundation this past January.
“I was glued to the TV for days,” she explained to The Weekly through a spotty cell phone connection from her new home in Kenscoff, Haiti.
Her extensive career in the nursing field includes a brief stint in a public hospital in Cartegena, Columbia where she personally delivered 60 babies in the course of just a week.
“They rewashed our medical gloves, put powder on them and hung them up to dry and reuse again later,” she recounted of the experience.
After Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, Laura signed up for 10 days of service with the American Red Cross without hesitation. She called the first half of the trip “a bureaucratic nightmare” because it took five days for her to receive an assigned location. By the end of her time seeing patients in an impromptu clinic set up in a local church, Laura said full military enforcements had been posted around the area.
“It was such a frustrating experience because my heart just went out to them during this disaster,” she remembered.
She recently worked with a Haitian-born doctor in Homestead, and after spending hours discussing the impoverished way of life in her native country, something in Laura yearned to help the people isolated in rural areas of the country.
She recalled a stop over in Labadee, Haiti, while on a cruise with her sister.
“I was so happy to set foot on Haitian soil, and I remember just looking up at those beautiful mountains…”
Hagen asked friend and fellow medical care provider Mirine Dye what she thought about traveling into Haiti to help with immediate relief efforts.
“She said, ‘Mirine, tell me if I’m crazy…’” Dye reflected.
Hagen applied to train under Doctors Without Borders and travel to Haiti, but was too anxious to wait once again on someone to tell her where to go.
Through an online connection, Hagen called her initial flight into Port Au Prince “miraculous.” Along with three other nurses, she traveled into the capital city aboard a private plane arranged through Missionary Flights International based in Ft. Pierce.
When they arrived, relief and aide workers were plentiful. So, the trio headed into the countryside to find others in need of help. For three months, their homes were pitched tents in Petion Ville, just south of the capital city, where they saw well over 100 patients a day. Survivors were still being dragged from the rubble, so they treated a lot of infected wounds, bronchitis and responded as best they could to a scabies epidemic.
With two daughters still in school, Dye chose to help from her stateside home. She took her teenage daughter to a food-packing event in Miami organized by Feed My Starving Children and spread the word about Hagen’s work to her friends and neighbors.
An active consultant with the Monroe County Health Department, Florida Department of Health and the Medical Reserve Corps, Dye said her involvement with medical response efforts in Haiti would focus on sustainability.
“My goals will focus on training local health care professionals in global public health education,” she elaborated. “I believe in starting with kids as far as public health information.”
She laughed as she recounted getting text messages from Laura asking about specific treatment methods at 2 am.
“She’s delivered twins in the middle of the night and another baby on a roof in the middle of a voodoo ceremony,” Dye told of Hagen’s work.
Her commitment to her work is evidenced in her massive undertaking of establishing Halo for Hope, a clinic focused specifically on women and infant care.
“One major issue of concern is abuse,” Hagan elaborated. “Not only spousal, but women against women, among teens. The living conditions – you cannot believe they live like this. It’s hard to think it’s real because it’s so horrible.”
When and more importantly if, someone decides to go the hospital, they have to bring their own bucket in which to urinate and their own bedding.
“Voodoo is the predominant religion,” she continued. “They believe in doing everything themselves.”
Hagen once begged a family for four hours for permission to take their daughter who was in labor to a hospital.
“They didn’t have any money to go to the hospital. I thought surely the baby was dead.”
When she arrived at the closest hospital, Hagen had to search for a doctor. Staff and nurses were nowhere to be found. She wound up scrubbing in to assist the doctor for the cesarean.
Hagen’s foundation, a Haitian-based entity with no financial backing from any United States-based NGOs, recently received endorsement from Dr. Serge Pintro, a former Minister of Health.
“I’ve opted to take a private foundation approach with major local backers here,” she reiterated. “Anything you do here takes 10 times as long as you’d normally expect. You have to work hard to gain trust. There’s a fine line of how to be successful.”
Malnutrition is another immediate concern for this nurse who’s immersed herself in the rural, Haitian community.
“My foundation will be a conglomerate of many things,” she said proudly. “The maternity clinic is only Phase 1. We’re going to tap into every resource we can to improve lives for the residents of Kenscoff.”
Last week, prior to receiving her sealed official Haitian foundation paperwork, Hagen gained cell service long enough to call Dye, who was scheduled to depart for her second trip to Haiti this past Monday.
“A teenager was shot for defacing a political poster, and another motorist was shot for resisting arrest,” Dye explained. “That sparked outrage among the people in the village. While she was talking to me, I could hear gunfire in the background. People can only take so much. The cholera epidemic has now spread to half of the region!”
Dye said she still felt compelled to go. Despite political unrest and growing cholera epidemic, Hagen perseverance is unrelenting.
“My center will give hope to women as a base in life,” Hagen confirmed. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life and feel more fulfilled than ever before.”
Nurse and midwife Laura Hagen has delivered babies throughout the mountains of Kenscoff, Haiti since her arrival there following last January’s devastating earthquake. Just before this birth on a roof overlooking the mountains, the male midwife and another man carried the expectant mother three hours on a stretcher three hours the five kilometers to get to Laura.
Hagen also helped deliver these twins at 1 am in this family of eight’s home, an 8×8 foot shack with one bed.
This cistern is the main source of water for the people of Kenscoff. Using whatever containers are available, they collect their daily water for cooking and hygiene. Following violent demonstration in the village last week just before national elections, this rudimentary pump system is no longer operational, exacerbating the deadly cholera epidemic spreading throughout the country.
Mirine Dye, a Tavernier resident and consultant with the Monroe County Health Department, argues emphatically that aid to Haiti cannot be compartmentalized. Monies used to investigate an infant death in Monroe County could be used to improve maternal child health education and find common ground in cultural practices. “Haitian immigrants will be living and working in the US. I want to focus on educating mothers on the health benefits of breastfeeding to keep babies from dying. Their common cultural practice is to feed newborns oil as it is believed to cleanse the body.”