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Joy is in our hearts: 'That is Haiti to me'

Rochester nurse Kay Anderson holds a young girl at a clinic in Haiti. (Contributed photo)

For the past nine years, since an earthquake became Haiti's 9/11, Mayo Clinic nurse Kay Anderson has traveled with a Rochester-area medical team to provide care to the people of Haiti. 

At first, the team set up daylong mobile clinics in rural areas across southern Haiti, serving patients by the hundreds. Then, last year, the group opened a medical clinic, funded by its nonprofit, CHAMPs in Haiti, and staffed by Haitian professionals. 

Through it all, Anderson, a Mayo Clinic critical care nurse and president of CHAMPs, has met with her share of skepticism: Why do you do it? For a country so poor, destitute and mismanaged, what can you possibly accomplish except a Band-Aid of sorts? 

Anderson has a ready retort. It's the people. The people are a source of wonderment to her.

Despite the deprivation that is their daily lot, Haitians are a hopeful and exuberant people. Anderson has made more than 15 trips to Haiti, both before and after the earthquake that killed more than a hundred thousand people and left millions more injured and homeless.


From the moment she set foot in the country in 2001, smelling the chaos of millions of desperately poor people, "I have been changed," she said. 

"The people of Haiti have every reason to be discouraged, despondent and hopeless. But they are not. It's the craziest thing to me," she said. 

The opening of the medical clinic in Trianon, Haiti, by CHAMPs last October has the potential to be a "game-changer," she said. 

"We're not putting Band-Aids on anymore," Anderson said. "It's actually making a difference." 

The medical clinic is located in a mountain village northeast of Port au Prince and serves a village of more than 6,000 people. The people there had never previously had access to health care.

The clinic draws people from a 15-mile radius, some of whom wake up at 2 a.m. to begin the trek to the clinic, knowing that its one doctor, one dentist and two assistants will only be able to see a limited number of patients. 

CHAMPS spends $1,200 a month to support the clinic staff, which is open two Saturdays a month, and $250 a month on supplies and medicine. Now the group is looking to expand the clinic's operations so that it could be open every Saturday. It would double the costs.

"What we'd love to do is expand this clinic and give them more access to health care," she said. "We don't want to run it. We want them to be able to help themselves."


CHAMPs suffered a setback last month when, 36 hours before a medical team was set to depart for Haiti, the trip was cancelled because of unrest in the country. Amid soaring inflation, price increases and fuel shortages, many poor Haitians revolted, burning businesses and forcing schools to close.

The trip's cancellation meant that the group was unable to hand-deliver the 700 pounds of medicine and supplies that it planned to bring on the plane with them. Anderson is attempting to find an alternative route to get the 14 bags of supplies to Haiti. 

The mission teams are made up of 15 to 17 doctors, nurses and dentists, the majority from Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center, Lake City and Adams. A dentist from Northwest Dental Clinic has been part of past missions. The five-day clinics serve as many as 1,600 patients a day.

Anderson is convinced that she gets more out of the trips than she gives to the people of Haiti. Their example has stirred her to live more simply and walk with a smaller carbon footprint.

"(It's a reminder) that joy and happiness does not always come with a lot of money or gold. It's in our hearts. That is Haiti to me," Anderson said. 

What: CHAMPs third annual fundraiser gala Hearts for Haiti.

When: 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 15.


Where: Cambria Gallery, 400 S. Broadway 105, Rochester. 

Tickets are $35. Food, beverages and auction raffle will support medical and dental care in Trianon, Haiti. 

Send an email to champsinhaiti@gmail.com or text/call Kay Anderson at 507-286-9355 to request tickets. 

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