By Ryan Hyland, RI Editorial staff
The very last item I bought at the pharmacy the night before my trip to Haiti last February was Superglue. I doubt synthetic liquid adhesives land on many packing lists, but it was a must-have for me in case my old, brittle eyeglasses broke.
My glasses survived the trip without incident. The glue served a far more important purpose.
I was part of a three-person RI Communications team that crisscrossed Haiti for 16 days, documenting Rotarian efforts to help rebuild a nation still badly beleaguered by the devastating earthquake that struck in January 2010. The trip was seamlessly orchestrated by producer Miriam Doan and colorfully documented by photographer Alyce Henson. My role was as reporter and writer.
For the first leg of our trip, we followed a team of Rotarians from New York and Port-au-Prince during a four-day mission that brought much-needed medical treatment to a remote village on the island of La Gonave, 40 miles west of the mainland. This group also installed 18 solar panels to power the village’s medical clinic and water pump. Read the RI News story.
A couple hours after the medical clinic closed the first night we were there, a 12-year-old boy, Alfy Fremy, and his mother walked up in need of immediate care. Alfy’s forehead and mouth were bleeding profusely. He had fallen off a cow and landed on a large rock. Face first.
Dr. Ernst Jean, a Haitian-American doctor from New York, worked quickly. The gash on Alfy’s forehead only needed a few sutures to mend. His upper lip was a different story.
Split cleanly from top to bottom, Afly’s lip was severely damaged. Because the only anesthetic available was 1% topical Lidocaine gel, which does little to blunt the pain, the doctor couldn’t properly mend the wound. As a temporary recourse, Dr. Ernst decided to close the lip as best he could with stitches.
In the middle of the hour-long procedure, he asked if anyone had Superglue. Everyone, including me, thought he was kidding, so a tired, soft chuckle filled the room.
The doctor carried on and needled six painful stitches to the lip. Alfy was brave. He never cried and only quietly winced in pain when the doctor threaded the needle through his lip.
Afterward, the doctor’s prognosis for Alfy was pretty dire. He said the stitches would do little to heal the wound and that without plastic surgery, Alfy would suffer permanent disfigurement.
He went on to tell a story about how his young daughter suffered a similar injury while on a family vacation. “Luckily, my daughter didn’t have permanent damage because I remembered that I had Superglue in the car,” he said.
What should have dawned on me earlier had a whiplash effect this time.
“Wait! What? Doc, you were serious about the Superglue earlier?!,” I interrupted.
He nodded, yes.
“I have some!” I blurted out.
I dashed out the clinic and ran the 150 yards to the church where we were all bunking. Rifling through my luggage with a flashlight, I found the glue. My rumblings woke up a few Rotarians who asked what was going on. “Saving a boy’s face with Superglue!” I yelled as I ran out.
Back in the medical clinic Alfy sat on the end table, his face filled with nerves and dread.
Here’s the deal with liquid Superglue. When applied, this type of adhesive bonds in seconds. It’s said that hockey players use it to immediately close gashes and cuts. Same principle applies here.
Dr. Ernst removed the feeble stitches and generously applied the glue to Alfy’s severed lip. Just like the package promised, the adhesive bonded in seconds, closing the wound almost entirely.
The next morning, Dr. Ernst took off Alfy’s bandages, dusted off some glue residue, and revealed a lip that looked completely mended. The glue would seal the lip long enough for it to heal properly in just a couple of weeks.
Prognosis went from permanent deformity to a mild scar.
For his bravery, Rotarians rewarded Alfy with a soccer ball. Moments later, as he laughed and kicked the ball around outside with the other kids, I was struck by the contrast from the night before.
As serendipitous as it was to have Superglue on hand, it was no fluke that Alfy found proper care. His treatment highlights the dedication of this group of Rotarians and volunteers. From sunup to sundown this team worked tirelessly to make a tangible difference in lives of the people of La Gonave.
Just ask Alfy.