St. John homeowner and philanthropist Donald Sussman, who helped finance the island’s telemedicine program at Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center, has stepped up to the plate for the island of Haiti.
Sussman donated the use of his private plane to Haiti relief organizers on St. Thomas who used it first on Tuesday, January 19, to deliver about 4,000 pounds of medical supplies as well as several doctors and nurses to the Caribbean nation in the throng of crisis following a powerful earthquake.
“We had about 4,000 pounds of I.V. fluids, bandages, crutches, tubing, I.V. stands, diapers, and formula, lots of formula,” said Jim Wilson, one of Sussman’s pilots. “There were narcotics, surgery supplies and supplies for doctors to perform amputations. We also had nine medical personnel on board going there.”
“There were some doctors and some nurses who were coming back with us too after being in Haiti for several days,” Wilson said.
As soon as the Caribbean nation came into Wilson’s view, devastation was evident, according to the pilot.
“You could see fires burning on the ground and you could see some areas that were littered with broken buildings and just buildings that were crumbled,” said Wilson.
Since the earthquake blew out all of the windows in the air traffic control tower and destroyed the Port-au-Prince airport, just landing the plane was a challenge, according to Wilson.
“The airport was cracked all over the place and all of the windows on the tower were blown out,” Wilson said. “Port-au-Prince has a few local people running the approach control and then they hand you off to U.S. military officials who have a small command center at the airport running out of a tent. When we got into the air space it was a little confused and we had to break our approach to the airport twice.”
After landing in Port-au-Prince, logistical problems delayed the un-loading of cargo and the return flight home, Wilson added.
“There was no transportation available to get the supplies off the field,” said the pilot. “There is a real lack of infrastructure so we had to wait a while. When they finally did show up they didn’t have enough storage and they had to hunt around and commandeer a truck.”
The extra time on the ground, however, allowed official to get a toddler from the Virgin Islands — who had been visiting family in Haiti but was separated from her mother — to board the flight and return home.
“They were trying to get the baby back to her mother but there were some issues during the first attempt,” said the pilot. “We were able to get the baby on board and reunite her with her mother.”
Wilson and his crew were scheduled to make a second trip to Haiti late Saturday night, January 23, to deliver additional medical supplies and personnel, and the plane would be available as long as it was needed, according to Sussman.
“The crew will fly back Saturday and we’ll go back to Haiti as often as we can help,” said Sussman. “It feels great to be in a position to make this unique and badly needed contribution.”