Christophe Lobry-Boulanger holds a steady hand on the belly of Jean-Yves, a 7-year-old boy moaning in pain. In the shadows of this small hospital, he discusses in French the boy’s medical condition and how to quickly get him the help he needs. The attending nurse nods.
To observers in the waiting room, a Red Cross worker in a hospital does not seem out of the ordinary.
But the American Red Cross volunteer has no medical background. Instead, the 48-year-old Christophe has Red Cross training in relief distribution and an expertise in international law. Only an hour before, he had been working to distribute tarps and other essential items to two hundred families.
An Abrupt Change of Plans
Relief distributions follow a pre-determined system that guarantees safety and efficiency. Lindor 1, a small community in Port-au-Prince, had already been mapped by the Red Cross and residents had been incorporated into this process.
But his own plans as manager of the distribution quickly gave way when Christophe heard commotion and saw a group of people circled around a small child, who was lying flat on the ground.
“We see suffering everyday,” he explains. “This is the first time that I’ve seen a physical emergency.”
After being crushed by a falling metal gate during a pickup soccer game, Jean-Yves had fractured his skull and leg, broken at least one tooth, and cut his tongue.
Team member Ori Shahom is a paramedic representing Magen David Adom (Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) who manages ambulances in a conflict zone back home.
“I was arranging a line of people, when suddenly on the radio, I heard the word ‘medicine,’” he says. “I jumped and ran to Christophe.”
He gave a quick diagnosis.
“When I saw the child, I knew with 90 percent certainty he had internal bleeding. I could do nothing for him – just check him. He needed to go to a hospital.”
Christophe, two nurses from a nearby school and the cousin of the boy loaded him into the Red Cross vehicle. During the car ride to the hospital, Christophe spoke to the child in French.
“Sometimes, the tone of voice and breathing matters more than what you the words that you’re saying,” he says. “I kept talking to calm him down and make sure he was alert.”
The driver took extra care in maneuvering the narrow, twisted and sometimes pot-hole-filled streets. Any bump could have further injured his backseat passenger.
The car pulled up to nearby Hospital L’Espoir, or ‘Hope Hospital.’ In front of the hospital were a number of long-term patients affected by the earthquake; many of the patients had casts or visible amputations. Those at the hospital were psychologically scarred as well. After two small earthquakes hours earlier, staff and patients ran outside for fear the building would collapse around them.
Christophe took great care in transporting Jean-Yves into the building.
Once on a table for examination, a volunteer nurse from North Carolina checked his vital signs. The boy’s blood pressure, while low, seemed stable.
Soon, a doctor examined Jean-Yves. He would be fine until he could reach professional care, but they had no ability to operate on him, if necessary.
Tears rolled down the sides of his head as Jean-Yves lay in pain, but as time passed, he grew quiet and closed his eyes.
In the back of Christophe’s mind was a comparison to his own family: “I have a nephew who is eight-years old, who is not much taller than Jean-Yves.”
The school nurses who came with Christophe from the accident scene quietly spoke with each other, grabbed the stretcher and took the boy back to the Red Cross vehicle.
On the way to the General Hospital, the driver pointed to where his house stood only weeks before. While his family was out of the house at the time, most of his neighbors had not been so fortunate.
Last Stop in a Broken City
In the heart of the city stands the General Hospital, an impressive complex now guarded by the U.S. military.
Three blocks away lies the crumbled remains of the National Palace. Next door, stands the debris of a former nursing school and a shattered bus, an enduring reminder of the hundreds of students that were killed when this building collapsed in the earthquake.
A guard waved the vehicle inside the gate, and a member of the Red Cross team jumped out of the car to grab a stretcher. Jean-Yves went into a tent outside of the building, where doctors from Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore had established a free clinic.
After an initial consultation, he was given medication for the pain in his stomach, and the doctors took an X-ray. The internal bleeding could be dealt with next.
And seemingly as soon as his quest began, Christophe was asked to return to Red Cross base camp to continue with other assignments. He had done everything in his power to help the child. He left them in the hands of the American doctors.
“I would have loved to have stayed there until the end to know that he was fine,” he says. “His family and nurses that came with us were still with him, and they had enough (money) to get back home.”
After three weeks in Haiti, Christophe will soon head back home. He believes that it was a successful mission that helped thousands of people to improve the quality of their lives. However, when he sees his nephew, he knows that he’ll think back to Haiti—and the impact he made on the life of one small boy.
You can help the victims of countless crises, like the recent earthquake in Haiti, around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation by mailing your donation with the designation to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or to your local American Red Cross chapter. Donations to the International Response Fund can be made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.