LONGMONT, Colo. (AP) – Shortly after a magnitude-7 earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, Dr. Peter Schmid rushed to the country to help the wounded.

Now, more than a year later, he’s planning to return to the impoverished Caribbean country to lay the groundwork for rebuilding a clinic in a ghetto near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

“When Haiti gets in your heart, it changes you forever,” said Schmid, a plastic surgeon at Longmont’s Institute of Aesthetic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. “The Haitians are such gracious and underserved people that I want to go back there.”

So Schmid — along with family nurse practitioner Curtis Weibel and emergency medical technician Jeffrey Youngbluth, both of Estes Park — plans to be in Haiti from May 2 to 12. Stephanie Burchett, a Greeley photographer, will accompany them.

The team will treat patients — Schmid anticipates largely for wound care and to treat infectious diseases like cholera, tuberculosis, dysentery and E. coli — in Port-au-Prince and the northern city of Gonaives.

They also will visit the site of a former medical clinic in Bel Air, a slum of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake decimated the clinic, and the debris has since been cleared off the land, which a nearby Baptist church owns.

Over the next five to 10 years, Schmid hopes to raise the funds to rebuild the clinic. Preliminary estimates indicate construction of a new clinic will cost about $700,000, Schmid said.

Schmid envisions the new clinic as a base of operations for students, educators and medical professionals who travel to the country on mission or humanitarian aid trips.

To finance this trip and subsequent ones, the team has set up a fund — the Haiti Relief Fund — through Weibel’s and Youngbluth’s church in Estes Park. Contributions to the fund will cover medical supplies and trip expenses. They will also cover a sometimes-enforced 20 percent value-added tax on items that enter the country, Schmid said.

In addition to medical supplies, the team also plans to bring crayons, notepads and small toys, as well as rag dolls, hair accessories and pillowcase dresses made by members of Longmont’s Girl Scout Troop 800.

“The gifts are to plant seeds of hope for them,” Schmid said. “If you can change their environment for a moment, you can change their lives. We want to put a smile on their faces and give them the gift of hope.”

While media attention and the public’s charitable dollars have focused on the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunamis earlier this month, Schmid said Haiti has remained in his heart.

“You follow your heart and your passions. The biggest part of being a humanitarian is really the gift of giving love unconditionally,” Schmid said. “And when you’re emotionally affected by life’s circumstances or conditions, that message never leaves your heart or your lips, and you want to carry that message and educate people.”

– By Magdalena Wegrzyn, Longmont Times-Call

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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