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2010-01-21

In Haiti, Stories of Desperation and Courage: Young Woman Fights for Her Life After Being Pulled from the Rubble

Guests

Dr. Eric Tham, pediatrician who works in the emergency room at Denver’s Children’s Hospital. He is in Port-au-Prince with a group of doctors who flew down to Haiti to volunteer medical care.

Patricia Cherie, Haitian earthquake survivor.

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The recovery effort continues in Haiti amidst a rising death toll. More than 10,000 bodies are now being buried in mass graves in a single day. As the people of Haiti continue to struggle for survival, we bring you stories of desperation and stories of courage. We turn to the story of a young Haitian woman, Patricia Cherie, who is fighting for her life after being pulled from the rubble off the nursing school she was studying at. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Amy, you’ve just returned, returned last night from Haiti, you and a couple of the producers.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. Sharif Abdel Kouddous and also Elizabeth Press worked with us. Kim Ives was working with us, as well, of Haiti Liberté.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tell us some of what you saw firsthand.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue to bring these reports, as we have through the week, and I encourage people to go to our website at democracynow.org. Also, Sharif was tweeting all through the period, giving people regular updates every single day, because what has happened in Haiti is — has completely shaken not only the people of Port-au-Prince. You know, the epicenter is even outside of Port-au-Prince. It’s in Léogâne, and tomorrow we’re going to do a whole story on Léogâne. This is where supposedly Jean-Jacques Dessalines was married 200 years ago. It is a historic city.

But what people are facing now, the amputations — I mean, as one representative of Doctors Without Borders has said, they haven’t seen anything like this since the Crimean or the Civil War. And one of the stories we’ll be bringing people is the first night we came. There was a kitchen tabletop amputation that was done. We sat and watched as doctors came from Denver Children’s Hospital, and they performed this amputation that, in most cases, would have been unnecessary if the patient had received care at the beginning. The number of amputations without anesthesia — now, let’s remember that it’s not only amputations, but it’s all operations, doctors who are unable to get access.

And it’s amazing to see the influx of doctors from all over, among them many Haitian American doctors who have come from our area in New York and New Jersey. I mean, to be in the —-

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was an amazing story, the interviews yesterday with the various Haitian Americans who had immediately flown down and gotten down there.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. Any which way, they have come to Haiti to help their people. And we shouldn’t even say “their people,” because it’s our people. It’s everyone. And you have seen this tremendous effort. I mean, that is the good news: global effort to get aid to Haiti.

The problem, though, is the bottleneck. Oh, there is massive amounts of aid at the Port-au-Prince airport. As to how it’s getting out is another question. Later in the broadcast, we’re going to speak to one of the leading human rights attorneys in Haiti, who talked about the prison break. You know, after the earthquake, the National Penitentiary, all the prisoners out, set free, hundred -— it’s 4,000 people were there. But he says 80 percent of them and also the prisoners around Haiti haven’t even been charged. And what’s ironic is then the UN uses it — or the authorities, in general, US — to justify not going to areas, saying that there’s a security risk. One of our colleagues talked to a soldier who said, as he’s getting out food to the people of Cité Soleil, “Oh, you know, these people are very peaceful, but we were told the prisoners had escaped.” Well, we’re going to really look more closely at this.

But right now, Juan, we just want to go to our first story. This takes place yesterday, just as we were racing to leave Haiti. We were over at Matthew 25 House, which is a hospitality house, they call themselves. It actually previously had been used to take in people from other countries who had come to work with the different departments in Haiti, people all over, so that people didn’t feel — Haitians — that they always have to come to the city, which goes back to Duvalier, that move into the city, and the assembly workers, you know, being paid low wages, etc.

But as we were there, one of the doctors who had come to help people in Haiti, Dr. Eric Tham — comes from Denver Children’s Hospital, he is a pediatrician there, works in the emergency room — he was extremely upset, and he sat at the entry. And let me also say, the entry of the house, where we were not allowed to all go in at once, because just before we left for the broadcast yesterday, that other quake happened. That’s called an aftershock, but we’ll talk about that later, which can kill so many people because, well, it’s 6.1. The earthquake, the first earthquake, was 7.0. So he was sitting on the steps. And this is the story he told us.

    DR. ERIC THAM: Eric Tham, I’m a pediatric emergency physician from the Children’s Hospital in Denver. This is probably the hardest case I’ve seen so far. There’s a twenty-some-year-old woman out there that’s a medical student, in her medical school when the earthquake happened, was buried alive for three days and survived by drinking of the blood of other people around her. And one of the fathers from one of the parishes around brought her — brought her to us this morning for further care. We put her IV in and were hoping to send her to another hospital that had intensive care capabilities. After circling around and — probably an hour or so, they finally found the compound where these physicians were, and they took her in. And then they saw that she might have a head injury, so there wasn’t much for her to do, so they brought her back here.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can she speak?

    DR. ERIC THAM: She has been speaking. They said she’s lucid.

    AMY GOODMAN: How has this experience changed you, being here?

    DR. ERIC THAM: I mean, I think it’s going to take some time for me to absorb all this. And you saw, this is the first time I’ve broken down since I’ve been here.

    AMY GOODMAN: We followed Dr. Tham back behind the house to a soccer field where as many as a thousand people have taken refuge, where Patricia Cherie was, to talk to her.

    Tell us your name, how old you are.

    PATRICIA CHERIE: My name is Patricia.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you speak English?

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] No. I have been suffering for a long time. Everywhere I go, they just give me something and just send me home, but without getting ready. They just bring like this. That’s why I’m like that.

    AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you? What happened in the earthquake?

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] She’s learning nurse, and one time — and she just said that the building fall down, and all the wall [inaudible] concrete fall on her. And I was sitting on a chair, and all the concrete fall on me. And the concrete all over my head. They cannot do anything for the head. And she probably goes somewhere else just to take care of her head, because everywhere she go, they say, no, nothing, nothing.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did you survive?

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] OK, when she was under the concrete, and she says that “Anyway, I cannot stay here. I should do something to get out of there.” And then I was since 5:00 — OK, 5:00 at night, and I get out at 11:00. And I scream out, calling Jesus. OK, and she was — I was thirsty, and then I just drink some water, and I find blood instead of water.

    AMY GOODMAN: The blood of...?

    PATRICIA CHERIE’S TRANSLATOR: The other students who were with her.

    AMY GOODMAN: Who were — who had died?

    PATRICIA CHERIE’S TRANSLATOR: Yeah, who had died, yeah.

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] She says that she already met you, she wish she wouldn’t be like this. She would get — everywhere she go, and they don’t take care of me. OK, and they just give me something and say, go home with my mother. She’s the only girl who get out of there. All died.

    AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] Twenty-three. OK, my parents are living abroad.

    AMY GOODMAN: Abroad.

    PATRICIA CHERIE’S TRANSLATOR: Yeah.

    AMY GOODMAN: Where?

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] Washington.

    AMY GOODMAN: Washington.

    PATRICIA CHERIE: [translated] She has a phone number of the family.

    AMY GOODMAN: You are an amazingly strong woman, that you survived for this whole week. You are an important model of strength and courage for all of us. OK, we will call your father.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s just what we did. That’s Patricia Cherie, a twenty-three-year-old nursing student who was caught in the rubble. She was at school with other nursing students. As she described the scene, the way she survived from — well, the earthquake hit at about 5:00 in the afternoon. She was dug out the next morning at about 11:00. Those eighteen hours, the dead students around her, she drank their blood to survive. Anything to survive. And now she — they are hoping to get her hope as soon — help. As soon as we could, we reached her father, Patrick Cherie — he lives in Columbia, Maryland — to talk to him to say we’d been with his daughter, we had touched his daughter, that she wanted us to call. He had a Creole interpreter there, and we just talked about his daughter to tell her — to tell him that she is alive.

We reached Dr. Eric Tham last night, the doctor who first told us about this story first, late last night when we came back into the United States. And he said, in fact, Patricia has now been transferred to a Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders, hospital or clinic for further treatment. And we will try to get the latest on her case to keep you updated.

We were speaking to Patricia in the back of Matthew 25 House, where this house that’s usually a place for some thirty-five visitors has now extended into the soccer field, with about a thousand people, people who are being treated in various levels, stages of injury and others who are not injured, but who have come from their devastated homes, no place to go, or simply afraid that their home could crumble still. Everyone is sleeping outside.

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