Just days after the tragic earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, Dr. S. Allen Counter, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Harvard Foundation organized the first of his two earthquake relief effort from Harvard and headed off to Haiti with a large supply of tents and donated medical supplies. He later contacted his friend, acclaimed actor Will Smith and asked him to donate 100 tents to the earthquake-displaced families in Haiti. Smith enthusiastically agreed, and shipped over 100 family-sized camping tents to Counter at Harvard through the Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith Family Foundation. Famed actress Debbie Allen also sent along a number tents for homeless children and families in Haiti. Dr. Counter personally delivered the tents to homeless families in and around the earthquake ravaged capital of Port Au Prince. Each tent can provide temporary housing for a family of six to eight persons.
Dr. Counter bypassed the logistical bottleneck of supply traffic on damaged and congested Haitian roads entering Port Au Prince by using military helicopters provided by his friend and President of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez Reyna. Counter criss-crossed the Dominican Republic and Haiti numerous times on Huey Helicopters, delivering his tents as well as supplies of crutches, walking canes, and medicines to different locations in and around the Port Au Prince area. He was assisted in the distribution of the tents to homeless families by Haitian churches and military volunteers from the Dominican Republic. “It was deeply moving to witness entire families who were previously sleeping on the streets move into the comfort and privacy of their own new tent,” Counter said. “I felt blessed to be able to offer this small contribution of medicines temporary housing to displaced Haitian families in the aftermath of this disastrous earthquake.”
Dr. Counter also organized a Harvard Foundation medical relief team of doctors, nurses and technicians who traveled with him to Haiti and provided medical care for scores of injured earthquake victims. The medical team included of Dr. Bruce Price, Chief of Neurology and Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Timothy Benson, physician and psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, and Dr. Michael Jenike, physician and psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. They were assisted by Haitian-American nurse Widy Pierre of McLean, Harvard Biological Laboratories technician Anthony Jacobs, and Dominican-born translator, Milca Matos.
Each day, the group visited relief centers, where hundreds of injured and dying earthquake victims were on the ground or on the back of trucks with little or no medical supplies or doctors. In addition to providing medical treatment, the group provided dedicated paramedical volunteers from Haiti and other nations with an array of medicines, including analgesics and antibiotics, as well as supplies of surgical gowns, surgical masks, antiseptics, gauze, bandages and flashlights. Most of the medical supplies were donated by the Harvard University Health Services. Counter’s team also flew large amounts of water to medical treatment sites in Port au Prince, where many dehydrated patients were lying on the ground or on the back of trucks, or in wheel barrows that served as small ambulances.
In response to a request from the Haitian Embassy in Washington, DC, Dr. Counter also delivered a large number of body bags to Haitian hospitals, donated by the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Counter’s Harvard Foundation Relief team had previously worked together in disaster relief in Louisiana immediately following Hurricane Katrina, where they assisted an estimated 1500 hurricane victims, including 500 displaced Vietnamese immigrants at St. Anthony’s Church Shelter. Some years earlier, Dr. Counter had also assisted earthquake victims in the Andes mountain area of Cotopaxi Province in central Ecuador, where he brought in a team of medical personnel and supplied medicines and tents for the indigenous Andeans who had been injured or lost their homes. Dr. Counter has travelled back-and-forth to Ecuador numerous times over the past decade to identify and provide medical treatment for Andean children who suffer from environmental lead and mercury poisoning.
written by Dr. Leo H. Buchanan, Harvard University Health Services // photography by Michael Hallstrom