Having just left the office on Tuesday, January 12th, Marilyn, my office manager called my cell to inform me that she had just learned that Haiti had experienced an earthquake. She knew that I had been planning to return to Haiti just twelve days from then, having been there twice already in the past several months. I was heading directly to a high school basketball game when I got this news, so it wasn't until later in the evening when I returned home that I would learn of the devastating magnitude of the quake.
Extremely upset and concerned, I spoke frankly with my wife, Sue, who agreed that it would be good if I move up plans to return, if that were at all possible. Hearing that all commercial flights into Haiti had been suspended, I contacted a very good friend of mine who is the Director of Aviation at Amway Corp. He was not surprised by the call. He called me later to inform me that, if I needed to get there, they could make it happen.
On Thursday evening, then, after speaking with my business partners, and after a long talk with Sue, I decided. So just 48 hours after the quake, it was official: I would quickly assemble a team of physicians and nurses, and leave for Haiti... in three days!
One day life was normal. The next day, anything but.
I arrived at work at 7:45 AM Friday, telling my office manager to clear my schedule for the next two weeks. It was no surprise to her, nor anyone who knows me well.
What happened from there is a blur. All I know is that, at 8 AM, just fifteen minutes after my announcement, I found two 100-dollar bills laying on my desk. I came up with a hastily-composed note to the patients I would see that day, telling them of my change of plans. Thanks to a few phone calls by my staff, then (I had a full slate of patients that day), word got out. Donations of medical supplies from hospitals, vendors, other medical offices and started getting dropped off at my office. Checks and cash started pouring in. The local radio station called, asking me to drive over for a quick interview. By 5:00 PM, I had received more than $5000 (mostly in cash) and several large truckloads of very appropriate medical supplies (we had stipulated the types of supplies we would need).
At one point during the morning, I contacted the relief organization, International Aid, to inform them of my plans. (Providentially, I had JUST been at International Aid a couple of weeks prior, carefully perusing their warehouse shelves, recording on paper and in photos an inventory of things I could obtain for upcoming projects I was planning. Who would have guessed? Like I said... providential). I was able to specifically request things I knew they had on their shelves, like 50 army stretchers, a pressure-cooker autoclave that operated over a camp stove, and on and on. They provided me with a PALLET of ibuprofen, thanks to a recent donation by Perrigo. The stuff would be ready for pick up the next morning.
I pressed on, attending to my full patient schedule, trying my best to block out the craziness in the background. At 5 PM, a 20 foot trailer pulled up in front of the office to load up the supplies we had collected. Amazingly, another large quantity of supplies had been collected at another site, Grand River Physical Therapy, in Ionia. Several trucks picked up those supplies and we all traveled to Gerald R. Ford International Airport where, at the Amway Aviation hangar, we dropped off the supplies in an area of the hangar they gave us for staging purposes.
To my surprise, amazement and eventually panic, we discovered that, so great and immediate was the response of my practice community, that we had overfilled the cargo capacity of the two Gulfstream G-500's that Amway had committed for this project. In my exasperation, I was sheepishly instructing the three remaining pickup trucks lined up at the hangar door, to proceed on to my house and off-load the remainder of the supplies in my garage, when Tania, the person in charge of coordination and logistics for Amway's role in our effort, came around the corner and shouted, "Stop! Bring them back! We have just received approval for another plane."
Twenty-four hours after the decision, I had received well over $5000 in cash, tens of thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies, and the unbelievable gesture of kindness of a company who would get us to Haiti.
Problem was, there was no "us" yet. Yikes. What have I done? I am way over my head.