By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
NEWTOWN SQUARE – Upholding the sanctity of life by providing hands-on medical aid to earthquake victims at a hospital in Haiti was both an honor and a privilege to Kathy Weir, a registered nurse who belongs to St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square, Delaware County.
“When I was watching the footage of the earthquake before I went down, I felt so helpless – I really wanted to do something,” Weir, 38, said.
She was further stirred by the injured people she heard on her television set; they pleaded for help from medical professionals around the globe.
Through the Haitian Professionals of Philadelphia, Weir volunteered to work at a community hospital in the Petionville section of Port-au-Prince Jan. 23 to Feb. 5.
She described her work in Haiti as “haunting.” But she saw it as a way to pay forward her Catholic faith and Catholic education.
The many people Weir helped in Haiti may be miles away but they remain close to her heart, she said.
They include the 2-year-old girl whose mother died saving her life. “The little girl was found in her mother’s arms,” Weir said. Doctors were able to save the girl’s arm, which had been crushed in the earthquake.
And then there was the university student who survived a five-story fall from a building that collapsed on campus. “She fell on her stomach, then a large cinderblock landed on her.” The woman sustained significant injuries to her pelvis and back. “They told her she wouldn’t be able to walk for two or three months.”
Also among Weir’s memories was that of the man with the broken arm who matter-of-factly pulled from his wallet a picture of his son and deceased wife. “He was kind of stoic about it.” Weir would quickly learn that many of the seemingly stoic earthquake survivors were still in a state of shock. “Sometimes there’s no emotion when they’re telling you their story. Some of these people lost entire families.”
Weir regrets that while other nurses took turns comforting a premature baby who only had a few hours to live, her medical assistance was needed elsewhere. “I really wanted a moment to hold that baby,” she said.
But there were many cheerful moments as well. “A lot of the children were so resilient,” Weir said. “They smiled ear to ear. The little ones got you through your day.” Oftentimes, “they didn’t know what was going on or they didn’t understand.”
Although communicating with patients was often challenging – most of her conversations had to be translated into Creole – Weir said she let her patients and their family members know she was praying for them. “I told them, ‘My heart is breaking for you and may God be with you.'”
As a nurse, Weir naturally sympathizes with those who are suffering. As a Catholic, she is fueled by her faith.
And in Haiti, those who were suffering and those who were helping to fuel Weir’s faith were often one and the same. “The resolve of the people’s faith got me through,” she said.
Since other medical professionals were relegated to the outdoors to treat patients in makeshift tents or on crowded streets, Weir considers herself fortunate for working in a hospital setting.
But because the number of injured exceeded the number of hospital beds, even that setting wasn’t ideal, she said. Some patients awaiting surgery had to lay on stretchers that lined the hallway.
“You had to adjust your thinking,” Weir said. “Relatively, this was good.” At least they made it to the hospital or lost a limb instead of their life, she said.
Her first day in Haiti, Weir clocked a 23-hour shift. On subsequent days, she logged, on the average, 12-hour shifts. She had two days off – both were Sundays.
Weir said seeing the destruction of the Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was also disturbing, as was learning about the death of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot.
The St. Anastasia School and Cardinal O’Hara High School graduate said she immediately thought of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia and how she would feel if that was reduced to rubble. “That’s what hit home to me,” she said.
Weir also considered it a blessing that her accommodations in Haiti were one of the four homes the hospital’s vice president owned. Some medical professionals slept on the roof of the hospital. “The house I stayed at had a church group next door. Every night, I heard them singing hymns in Haitian. It was the most beautiful thing. At night time, I would go out on the veranda, listen to their singing and close my eyes.”
Daily and nightly, her prayers for the Haitian people were the same: “Let me help them.”
“We’re delighted to know that a member of our faith community volunteered to serve the victims of the earthquake in Haiti,” said Msgr. Philip C. Cribben, pastor of St. Anastasia Parish.
St. Anastasia School raised more than $2,000 for Weir, which she donated on their behalf to the community hospital where she worked. St. Anastasia Parish sent $11,000 to Catholic Relief Services and $1,000 to Weir, which she added to the St. Anastasia students’ contribution.
“I have a gift that God gave me and I want to use God’s gift to help in need,” she said.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
$1.5 million raised locally for Haiti
The Philadelphia Archdiocese has raised more than $1.5 million through parish collections to aid earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. In addition, Catholic schools across the Archdiocese have raised nearly $147,000.
All funds donated by parishioners and Catholic schools will be sent to Catholic Relief Services, the official Catholic international humanitarian, relief and development agency in the United States.
A collection to help CRS help Haiti was taken up in churches across the Philadelphia Archdiocese at weekend Masses Jan. 23-24.
Of the Archdiocese’s 267 parishes, 217 – approximately 81 percent – had contributed $1,510,295 by March 2.
Catholic schools across the Archdiocese had collected $146,828 by the same date.
To donate to CRS online, visit www.crs.org or call 1-877-HELP CRS (1-877-435-7277).
– Christie L. Chicoine