HEMS as Social Network

Flight crew hosting flight crew

Oberto Charles, EMT

Oberto Charles, EMT

Oberto Charles, flight EMT-B, has been flying with Haiti Air Ambulance since February 2017. During this time he’s taken part in many of HAA’s stateside training programs, visiting with bases to ride-along as an observer, whether in ground or air ambulances. Oberto has travelled to Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Virginia where he also participated in training and conferences. This past October, LifeFlight hosted Oberto at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh (operated by MetroAviation), where they have five HEMS bases.

Being Haiti’s first and only medevac service means that Haiti Air Ambulance is a standard-bearer for emergency services in Haiti. This keeps the focus on excellence for the HAA team and constant, ongoing training is central to that. “I’ve been to the States several times. But what we’re doing in Haiti is super important and we need to observe other programs to gain more knowledge. Ride-alongs allow us to see different ways of doing things and learn other procedures. Picking up these best practices allows us to come back and teach others as well as be better at our jobs,” Oberto said.

Allegheny’s flight nurse Cecelia Peterson, BSN, RN, CEN, CFRN, organized the trip for Oberto. She volunteered at Hopital Bernard Mevs in 2011 where she met Claudel Gedeon, HAA’s lead flight EMT-B, who she hosted a few years later. Though Cece has never flown with HAA, she understands the importance of our program and why these ride-alongs are key for our training.

“It took only a brief discussion with my husband, Fred, before we decided that we’d like to welcome Oberto to the Pittsburgh area and afford him a variety of EMS observation experiences,” Cece said. “Involvement in EMS and HEMS runs deep in our family. Fred was one of the first EMTs in the state of Connecticut in the 1960s; he’s the former program manager of LifeFlight and currently sits on the board of our local ambulance service. And I’ve been a flight nurse for many years. Fred and I wanted to host Oberto because we’d seen the passion that Claudel has for EMS/HEMS, as well as his drive to improve prehospital care in Haiti. We hoped that Oberto would be able to gain experiences and information that could positively impact the prehospital care of Haitians.”

Most medevac helicopters allow for transport of only one patient at a time. Nevertheless, the impact of these lifesaving services has significant ripple effect, especially in challenging environments. In Haiti, access to urgent care is almost non-existent outside the main cities, making the need for HEMS all the greater. The sense of that promise is felt in everything the HAA crew does every day—and it’s in line with the pride Haitians take in helping each other.

Cece noticed this on her first trip in January 2010. “The majority of Haitians want to help their communities and country to thrive. During that stay I met Haitian volunteers, both medical and civilian, who wanted to help as we established clinics in Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the earthquake. With Oberto’s visit, the biggest take-away for me was the reinforcement of the idea that Haitians truly want to help other Haitians. And EMTs such as Oberto and Claudel will be key in the country’s recovery and future development.”

When observing EMS crew in the states Oberto was struck by the fact that ground services respond to stable patients whereas the HAA program transports only those who are in need of critical care—a significant difference between ground and HEMS systems. His perspective was also broadened by attending AMTC in Atlanta this past month. “The annual conference put on by Association of Air Medical Services should be attended every year,” Oberto said. “There is so much to learn there and everyone is so helpful. There are even seminars about caring for oneself in order to be fit for duty to provide care to others. It’s interesting how often we forget that.”

Though they are superheroes when they put on flight suits, there are still human challenges of making things happen in every day tasks, like finding each other at the airport or hosting a stranger. But the camaraderie of EMS/HEMS professionals—and good old fashioned Haitian charm—makes for experiences that are worthwhile and friendships that will be lifelong.

HAA staff who travel to the US also benefit from the cross-cultural experience, helping to broaden their social networks and also, just maybe, inspire their friends and neighbors back in Haiti to invest in their country in different ways. While in Pittsburgh, Oberto visited a zoo for the first time as well as tour the city and surrounding areas. There was a trip to WalMart, too. Because there aren’t department stores in Haiti, imagine Oberto’s amazement at the realization that almost anything was available for purchase—especially the guns and an abundance of food. “The freshly-prepared, still hot, rotisserie chicken totally did him in. An entire chicken, ready to eat for under $5? No way!” Cece said.

And when a hotel snafu left Oberto without a room on the last night, Cece decided “there was no question about it: he came to stay in our home. That night we took Oberto to dinner at our favorite pizza restaurant and afterwards he sang for his supper in our living room, filling our home with his beautiful voice as he sang All of Me. Oberto was no longer a stranger to us. He was a friend, a Haitian son of our hearts. And, as our own sons would, he binge watched most of The Walking Dead season 9 that night. I don’t know how late he stayed up—јust as if he was one of our sons, I said good night and left him with the remote control in his hands when I went off to bed.”

Want to see the positive impact of HEMS continue in Haiti? Donate today. 100% of all contributions go towards lifesaving services: haitiairambulance.org/donate/