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Wichita doctor spent a week helping Haiti quake survivors

Via Christi physician

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Rick Moberly has worked in some of the poorest places on Earth, from Honduras to Zimbabwe.

But nothing compares to what he saw during his one week in Haiti after the devastating earthquake on Jan. 12.

He worked mostly as a primary care doctor in a makeshift clinic at one end of a soccer stadium in Port-au-Prince. The stadium had turned into a tent city.

"The entire town is destroyed," said Moberly, who returned to Wichita on Thursday night only to work a 24-hour hospital shift on Friday. "In Zimbabwe, they're poor, but all their houses didn't fall on them at once."

Several patients he saw suffered physical trauma from the earthquake and aftershocks, but he said many were starting to suffer from anxiety as the reality of their losses set in.

Patients said they couldn't sleep at night. There were no psychiatric drugs, and Moberly couldn't help them.

He remembered an orphaned girl, who couldn't have been more than 10 years old, carrying her infant brother. All he could do to help her was demonstrate how to give her brother antibiotics for an infection.

He treated a widowed pregnant woman.

"She asked, 'What am I going to do?,' " Moberly said. "You just feel helpless in those situations."

Unique fellowship

Moberly, 30, is one of six

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doctors at Via Christi Regional Medical Center who helped create a unique fellowship in which they spend a year learning how to treat patients in places with few resources — six weeks of tropical disease training, five months working in an international clinic that serves poor residents and six months on shift rotations at Via Christi.

They have to learn not only to be a family physician, but also how to perform emergency surgery, births and dentistry.

Moberly returned to Wichita in December after five months in a rural clinic in Zimbabwe.

"I was kind of settling back home, settling back into that routine," Moberly said. "Then I saw the quake in Haiti — saw the suffering on TV. I was pulled to Haiti."

The next day, he was calling and e-mailing any doctor or organization he knew that might be taking volunteer doctors to Haiti.

A week later, he was assigned to a medical team with Heart to Heart International, a Kansas City-based organization that develops humanitarian programs worldwide that focus on health and wellness.

Moberly bought his own $750 ticket to Santo Domingo, packed a backpack and some medical supplies and arrived in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 20.

The volunteer doctors and nurses had a roof over their heads — a Nazarene church that survived the quake — but that can be dangerous with continuing aftershocks. They slept outside at least one night for fear the building might collapse while they slept.

Impact of the trip

Leaving Haiti after one week caused mixed emotions in Moberly, but he said he knows for now other Heart to Heart doctors will take his place.

"You question the impact for (being there) for a week," he said. "What it really does is impact you — makes you more aware."

Heart to Heart president Gary Morsch said he hopes Moberly and other doctors and nurses keep returning as the organization rotates medical teams in Haiti.

The group has bought a piece of property with a standing and secure house to set up a more permanent operation, he said.

"A million people sleeping in the street — that's what Haiti is," Morsch said. "We cannot forget about Haiti."

Moberly said he plans to return, possibly with his Via Christi fellows.

"On one hand, you saw this look of exasperation, and at the same time, you saw resilience," he said of Haitians. "They're gathering whatever they can and saying, 'I'm going to fight through this.' "

Corrections have been made to the original version of this story, published Sunday.

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