The thin, desperately ill 12-year-old boy arrived in the dead of night, jolting Peg Pekrul awake on her air mattress in the small mountain clinic. • Days earlier, Anne Richter helped a woman with no prenatal care give birth to a healthy baby girl. Richter later watched protectively as the young mother and child left for home. • The two St. Petersburg women are volunteers at a medical clinic on the island of La Gonave, a remote outpost of Haiti. • The clinic is a milestone in an 11-year relationship between two parishes, St. Isidore's Catholic Church at Anse-a-Galets on La Gonave and St. Paul's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg. Partners With Haiti is a ministry of St. Paul's, involving dozens who work directly with the team and a parish of ardent supporters.
Since opening in late September, the medical clinic has rarely had a slow day. Long lines of patients — some traveling hours on foot from scattered settlements where they often resorted to home remedies — waited patiently outside security walls the day the clinic opened. Accessible medical care, Father Jean Fresnarc Antilus had told the St. Petersburg church group several years ago, was a top priority for people in his region.
Speaking last month at a gathering at the Tampa home of Dr. Mark Morris, one of the many volunteers on the project, Antilus expressed gratitude. "The new clinic will serve the people who are far from any facility,'' he said through Morris, who acted as his interpreter. "We don't have a doctor there, but the nurses can now help the community.''
Besides establishing the clinic, Partners With Haiti also sponsored the nursing education of the two Haitian women now caring for their neighbors.
In the years since the sister parishes began their relationship, Partners With Haiti has made 20 trips to the island and operated six temporary medical and dental clinics.
"The first few years that we went, we just tried to get to know the people there and form some friendships,'' said Jim Stitt, Partners With Haiti president.
They asked Antilus what was needed in the region, which is a day's journey from Port-au-Prince by car, boat and truck. "He took us up into the mountain and showed us this building and asked us if we could use it as a basis to provide some health care to the region,'' Stitt said.
"That was about seven years ago.''
The Good Samaritan Clinic opened Sept. 27 in a renovated and expanded building once owned by World Vision, an international Christian relief organization.
"We've been doing the renovations gradually,'' Stitt said. "We started with the security wall; next came the kitchen and storage building and roofing. The last thing was the water tank, then the computer and satellite connections.''
The project cost about $25,000, with La Gonave residents doing most of the work. Their pay included one meal a day.
The island's health minister, who also is its lead physician, will visit the new clinic twice a month. The two 20-something nurses whose training was sponsored by Partners With Haiti, Beretha Toussaint and Evelyne Vilsante, will live on the premises and run the day-to-day operation. Close friends, they are planning a double wedding at St. Isidore's on Dec. 23.
For the people of La Gonave, the simple medical clinic in the village of Plen Mapou is the answer to fervent prayer.
"One of the things that was repeated over and over was that they don't have to worry so much when people get sick,'' said Pekrul, a physical therapist assistant whose husband, Lou, coordinates the St. Paul's ministry.
She told the story of the 12-year-old whose frantic relatives rushed him to the facility late one night. "There was beating at the gate. Somebody was holding an unconscious child. He had been vomiting and had a high fever during the day and was dehydrated," she said.
As they treated him, he had a seizure, so they decided to rush him to La Gonave's 35-bed Wesleyan Hospital miles away. With transportation scarce, someone turned to a community leader whose brother-in-law owned a truck. The truck got stuck in mud, delaying by hours the boy's arrival at the island's only hospital for its 100,000 residents. He survived.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.