Kelli Paslawski, a wife and mother who lives in Northville, used her time and nurse assistant skills at a medical mission in Port au Prince, Haiti, this summer.
She, along with 14 other members of Calvary Baptist Church in Canton, teamed up with the nonprofit organization World Orphans. In two days, they met the medical needs of almost 400 people, ages 6 weeks to 97 years. For many, it was the first time they had visited a doctor in years.
“People of this poverty-stricken island are in much need of medical help,” Paslawski said. Hospitals in Haiti are often closed for months at a time since the 2010 earthquake that caused about 316,000 deaths and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which caused catastrophic damage and a humanitarian crisis.
“The island and its infrastructure remain largely broken, and there are 750,000 orphaned children,” Paslawski said, “Yet, the Haitian people persevere through their strong work ethic.” Her church sponsors 20 children in a small town there.
Paslawski, 46, had no idea what her role would be when she and her fellow parishioners got to the church in Haiti that housed the medical clinic. During the clinic, the Beaumont Health nurse assistant took patients’ vital signs — body temperature, blood pressure, pulse or heart rate, and breathing or respiratory rate — to help assess patients’ general physical health and give clues to possible diseases.
The equipment used at the clinic included one stethoscope, one old thermometer, one blood glucose monitor and a manual blood pressure cuff.
When Paslawski saw the endless line of patients queued up, she quickly trained another member of her group how to take blood pressure readings. “It was a blessing to share my skills,” said Paslawski. “We made a great team.”
“While my friend and I took turns taking vital signs, we also did our best to communicate assurance to our patients through our smiles and gestures. The words were few but the love was abundant,” Paslawski said.
“Not understanding the language and speaking through translators was difficult,” said Paslawski. “But, I quickly found positive nonverbal communication goes a long way. A smile is universal.”
The friends also took turns holding babies of women who came to be examined. “I loved this time, because I could focus solely on holding one of these precious little ones. I will never forget this.”
The long days at the medical clinic included substandard bathroom facilities, heavy and constant perspiration from the high heat and humidity and those long lines of people waiting for hours to be seen. “The Haitian people endured, so I did too. I can't wait to do it all again,” said Paslawski.
She is thankful to have had this opportunity to help: “I could tell by the many times I heard people say ‘Merci,’ and the smiles and hugs they gave to me how thankful they were.”
She did not want to leave Haiti and the people she came to love. However, when she returned to her job at Beaumont Hospital, Farmington Hills a few days after returning home, she found a new pep in her step. “I was more tolerant, more compassionate and found myself not rushing with my patients. I am different now, and hope my patients can feel this difference as well.”
Paslawski recommends going on an overseas medical trip to anyone she knows because she had such a positive, life-changing experience. Next summer’s trip is already in the works.