Dr. Ted Cook's favorite memory from his recent trip to Haiti happened while he was walking through a hospital. He saw a little girl who appeared frightened and overwhelmed by the busy environment, and he took a moment to smile at her. Her face immediately lit up as she smiled back.
"That was worth the whole trip," said Cook, who is Newton Medical Center's medical director of the emergency department.
Cook recently traveled to Haiti with a Newton Medical Center team that included Paul Lavender, NMC's retired CFO, and Cliff Dyck. The team was sent to Haiti by NMC to explore ways the hospital can help promote better health care in the country.
The group was able to meet with Wildy Mulatre, a Haitian student who went through Hesston College's nursing program and also spent two years at Bethel College. Though he could have chosen to pursue a career in the United States, Mulatre chose to return to his native Haiti and is now an administrator over the central region of Haiti.
The NMC team visited a regional referral hospital in the town of Hinche, population 85,000. This is one of the major hospitals that treated victims of Haiti's major 2010 earthquake.
Although Haitians do not have access to the same level of care available in the United States, Cook said local doctors do a good job with the few resources they have. Unlike the conditions in other poorer countries, the medical facilities Cook visited were clean and beds had fresh sheets.
However, patients don't have as much privacy, and doctors are still using some outdated techniques. Some of the equipment is broken or only partially functional. A clinic they visited served a town of 20,000, similar to the size of Newton, but the clinic only had two rooms and five doctors.
"They are using their resources as best as they can," Cook said. "But if you don't have resources, and if you don't have any money, you're trapped."
Cook said part of the problem is that sometimes, organizations donate equipment but don't train Haitian medical professionals how to maintain it or fix it.
Eventually, Cook hopes teams of NMC staff members can take volunteer trips to Haiti several times a year. He said there will be opportunities for volunteers with expertise in a variety of fields, ranging from medical to administration to construction to information technology. NMC staff also might be able to offer training programs via the Internet.
Cook believes truly helping people is about more than just donating equipment or money. He said providing medical workers in poorer countries with training can create change that will last a lifetime.
"I've always been more interested in launching people into a better life than fixing things for a little time," he said. "If I leave, it goes on. ... It's making a difference that will continue to make a difference."
He praised NMC for its interest in helping others receive better health care throughout the world.
"This is the finest hospital that I've worked with," Cook said of NMC. "Doing things like this expresses the heart of the organization. (It's) all about caring for people."