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Saving lives in Haiti

Saving lives in Haiti

[photo of Paul Cervenko at work in Haiti]Paul Cervenko at work in Haiti.

Lieutenant (Navy) Paul Cervenko, Meds’87, a doctor with the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Jacmel, Haiti, is helping to save the lives of Haitians and Canadians alike.

As a doctor, he provides primary medical care with his team of nurses and medical technicians.

Born and raised in Kingston, Paul, a 19-year veteran and former naval reservist, was working at the base hospital in his hometown when he got the notice to prepare to go to Haiti a day after a deadly earthquake struck the Caribbean nation. Hours later, he was on a bus bound for Trenton where a Canadian Forces jet flew him to Port-au-Prince later that day.

This is Paul’s third tour – he deployed to Aviano, Italy in 1999 and Kandahar in 2009 – and the family doctor says it was a challenge facing so many people needing help with just what they brought on the plane. While working at a hospital in Port-au-Prince days after the quake, he says they ran out of casting material and splints to deal with all the mangled and broken limbs that they saw. Using clean cardboard from ration packs, they made improvised splints.

“We were working with what we brought with us, and you had to be creative in order to deal with some situations,” he says.

Paul says the hardest part is when he sees cases which he knows are hopeless, but the families still deal with them with nothing but love. He remembers a family whose mother had been paralyzed almost a year ago. They carried her in their arms to the clinic for treatment “because they had heard that we were good,” he says.

He also remembers a father in Port-au-Prince pleading with him as night fell to amputate his daughter’s mangled arm. The team had to leave due to security concerns, but when they came back the next morning the father and daughter had not moved and were the first to be helped.

Despite the heavy and steady stream of human tragedy that he has faced, Paul says he finds the experience both professionally and personally rewarding.

“It’s taken every ounce of my experience and training. It’s the culmination of my career and it’s been focused on helping people here,” he says. “I’ve also learned how much good you can do if you put your mind on it. Even if you don’t have a lot, you can still accomplish a lot.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-2 cover]