Former Corpsman Teams With Bataan To Assist Earthquake Victims
(February 4, 2010)
|GRAND GOAVE, Haiti (NNS) -- As civilian doctors at Lifeline Christian Ministries' medical clinic rushed to treat Haitians in the aftermath of the Jan. 12 earthquake which devastated the Caribbean country, one doctor was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of medical staff from the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). |
Former Navy Corpsman William F. Rutherford was overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion when he first saw Bataan Medical Team members walk through the clinic's front door.
|Jan. 29, 2010 - Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Lester, bottom left, a physician embarked aboard the multi-purpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), describes a Haitian woman's injuries to visiting members of Doctors Without Borders while examining patients at the Lifeline Christian Ministries Mission medical clinic in Grand Goave, Haiti. Bataan is supporting Operation Unified Response following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that caused severe damage in Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010.|
|"When we first had the U.S. Navy come in, I can't remember who it was, but two Navy medical personnel walked through the gate and said 'We are looking for the two American doctors from Indianapolis,'" he said. "That was the first time I came close to losing it."|
Rutherford joined the Navy as soon as he graduated from high school in July 1969, marking the the start of his love for both the military and assisting others. Although he began his naval career as a musician, he later changed career paths, becoming a hospital corpsman (HM).
During multiple tours in Vietnam, Rutherford saw poverty, filth and minimal medical support for local people, experiences which led him to pursue a medical career outside the Navy. He said his unrelenting patriotism has caused his heart to always remain with the military, something he says carries over as he works side-by-side with service members once again.
"I have always had a passion for the military, and I have always identified very much with them," he said. "So when I saw (Bataan) coming, it was at that point when I knew we were okay. I am the guy that tears up when they play the National Anthem at a baseball game, so it was really quite good to see [them]."
Rutherford has been coming to Haiti for more than 20 years to lend his medical expertise at Lifeline Christian Ministries in the village of Grand Goave. This year proved to be much different than past trips to the country though, with Rutherford and his medical partner, Dr. Doug Hartey, immediately aware of the significant medical aid required as a result of the Jan. 12 earthquake.
"We knew immediately an earthquake of that magnitude would be a disaster," he said. "A disaster exists when you have one more patient than you have resources, and that is Haiti on its best day."
As Rutherford and Hartley rushed to Haiti, their trip proved to be more difficult than expected. With the Port-au-Prince airport closed, the two ran into multiple roadblocks as they attempted to reach their destination in 72 hours. After a few days, a few phone calls and the help of a senator, they finally reached the Lifeline medical clinic, immediately beginning treatment of patients.
For the next five days both doctors saw incredible injuries, including fractures, burns and severe soft-tissue wounds, all of which were treated with limited medical supplies.
"We made it there by 4 o'clock Saturday night and went right to work," said Rutherford. "It was pretty much ugly, and we had virtually no help."
Rutherford and Hartey worked non-stop, treating patient after patient, when help arrived in the form of Bataan's medical team. These Sailors reviewed and treated patients, permitting the two doctors much-needed assistance.
This extra help allowed Rutherford to work together with the Navy corpsmen and physicians to select patients in need of a higher level of care and evacuate them to either Bataan or USNS Comfort.
"We managed to get people out of here thanks largely to our doctors and the Navy," he said. "We have evacuated somewhere in the range of 48 to 50 patients. If it is within what I can do here, we do it. On the other hand, the Navy has just been remarkable at getting patients out."
Anyone who talks with Rutherford knows his passion for the military because he speaks about it every chance he gets. For him to be able to work with the military once again and provide assistance to wounded Haitians is a dream come true and nothing short of a miracle.
"I am ecstatic," said Rutherford. "These are my people — both the military and the Haitians — and both have been just phenomenal on each end. I count it as an incredible privilege just to be here. I can't think of any other place I would rather be."
Rutherford recounted an event early-on during his time at Grand Goave that not only touched his heart but left him speechless. As his team searched the village for earthquake victims, he noticed a Marine serving as their translator. He later discovered the Marine was not only from Port Au Prince, but that he still had family there, and learned the young man was able to contact his aunt but not his mother.
He asked the young man, "Are you OK?" and the answer he received left him stunned. The young Marine replied without hesitating, "Good to go."
"It was at that point where I had to turn away because I started to cry," said Rutherford. "Here was somebody who doesn't even know about his own family, and he was helping us. He was absolutely a shining example of what I think America is all about."
|Article by MCS 2nd Class Kiona Miller|
USS Bataan public affairs
U.S. Navy photo by MCS 2nd Class Kristopher Wilson
Reprinted from Navy News Service
Comment on this article