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Nicole Dionne, SIS/BA ’07

Nicole Dionne in front of a hospital in Haiti

Nicole Dionne '07

Dionne graduated summa cum laude from the Honors Program with a degree in international relations. After the earthquake devastated Haiti in January, she wrote of her remarkable tale.

I’m a second year master’s student in public health at Emory University. Since the beginning of the summer, I have been collecting thesis data on diabetes at Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti. The hospital is located about 90 km north of Port-au-Prince and serves nearly 300,000 patients in the Artibonite Valley.

I was in the car stopped outside the hospital’s office in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. I didn’t understand what was happening until I saw the buildings around us start to fall. We ran down the street because a three-story school had collapsed. People rushed to help free children and teachers from the rubble. Thousands flooded the streets and other open spaces in fear that aftershocks would ruin the few remaining buildings. A heavy cloud of dust rose over the city as the sun began to set.

On the ride back to the hospital, we listened carefully to the radio broadcasts. Reports of collapsed buildings and fatalities rushed the airwaves. In our packed van we sat in stunned silence for the entire four-hour ride. Despite the broadcasts, it wasn’t immediately apparent how catastrophic the earthquake had been. It wasn’t until the following morning that the gravity of the situation became clear. We were without functioning phone lines, so many people waited to hear news from missing friends and family. The mood in the street shifted constantly—hugs and shouts of “hallelujah” when loved ones were found safe and tears and wails when they were not.

While there was no damage to the hospital or its immediate surroundings, it was flooded with patients. They arrived by any means possible: motorcycles, the back of pickup trucks, buses. Hundreds waited to be seen by doctors, many with makeshift splints and other bandages. A week later, patients were still arriving. Hospital staff have been working non-stop, despite the fact that they too had missing or injured friends and family. There were more than 250 patients waiting for surgery, many with multiple broken bones and other trauma.

The ability of people to come together in a time of crisis is inspiring. Community members and local organizations brought hot meals, water, and care packages to patients. Non-medical hospital staff worked around-the-clock to help any way they could, including comforting patients. Even the aid community banded together by sharing medical supplies and other resources. It would be nice if the media had portrayed Haitians as I have witnessed them: giving, compassionate, and community-minded, rather than focusing on the few acts of ill will in Port-au-Prince.

As a student of global public health, I have learned a lot from seeing the emergency relief process. We spend all this time in the classroom learning about preparedness, and to see the plans in action is completely different. With every disaster response, we can improve. If it weren’t for school starting, I would’ve stayed at the hospital and continued helping. This tragedy has motivated me to finish my degree and get out working in the field.