Inspiration from abroad

haiti2-102213October 22, 2013

OHSU team hosts visiting medical student

On January 12, 2010, Pierre (Peter) Lylord, 24, woke from a nap to his house collapsing around him. He barely survived, forced to jump barefoot from an upper story window. For more than a day his mother thought he was buried under the pile of rubble that had been their home. At night the streets of his hometown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti were filled with people too scared to sleep inside. The medical school Peter was attending was badly damaged.

In the aftermath, Peter offered what medical aid he could to his community. Two weeks after the earthquake, he began assisting visiting medical teams from all over the world. He worked with at least nine organizations over the next eight months, acting as a translator and an emergency responder, as he also struggled to develop a plan to return to medical school. Peter was attending the Université d'État d'Haiti, a public university in Port-au-Prince, but after its facilities were severely damaged by the earthquake he transferred in 2011 to Universite Quisqueya where he will complete his degree.

In 2012, Peter assisted the visiting OHSU medical team and was a translator for Rebecca Harrison, M.D., F.A.C.P., hospitalist and associate professor of medicine. "I was impressed with Peter's intelligence, manner with patients, insights into human beings, his kindness," said Dr. Harrison. "I encouraged him to come to OHSU as a way to help him realize his dreams to help Haiti. Haiti needs skilled Haitian doctors and in Peter I saw that and I also saw a real leader."

Peter's goal is to be a neurosurgeon – there are just two practicing neurosurgeons in Haiti for a population of close to 10 million. "My passion is to help my people. I have experienced the suffering and the need," Peter said. "Sometimes at the hospital in Port-au-Prince I will see 30 people a day, critically injured from motor accidents. We will save five and the others are dead because we have limited resources and limited staff."

This conversation in Haiti led to Peter's journey to OHSU in July 2013 for a two-month stay as a visiting medical student. His arrival marked the culmination of a cooperative effort among many groups and people. The OHSU Center for Diversity & Inclusion contributed to his airfare, and others at OHSU provided logistical and financial support, including hosting Peter in their homes, while clinical faculty members opened their schedules for him to observe medicine at OHSU.

haiti1-102213His first rotation at OHSU was in the trauma unit with another member of the visiting OHSU medical team to Haiti, John Mayberry, M.D., former associate professor of surgery. "When I met Peter in Haiti, I was immediately impressed with his poise and confidence.He is well-spoken and knowledgeable. At first I didn't know he was a student," Dr. Mayberry said. "At OHSU he once again demonstrated his poise and knowledge. This is likely not just a matter of his abilities, which are mature, but also his experiences day-to-day in Haiti on the front lines of medical care."

Peter completed a variety of other rotations while at OHSU: pediatric intensive care; general surgery with Karen Kwong, M.D., associate professor of surgery, (including two days in the neurological surgery clinic with Don Ross, M.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery); and the ER, under the supervision of Mohammad Daya, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine. He also attended lectures on topics ranging from neurovascular disorders to gastrointestinal bleeds. Peter is thankful for his time at OHSU and the willingness of those he met to teach him and help advance his knowledge. "It has been incredible," he said. "I'm like a sponge and will share all of this information."

For Dr. Harrison, bringing Peter to OHSU was an opportunity to continue broadening her worldview. "I was very transformed by the time [in Haiti] and Peter had something to do with it. I learned his personal story about the earthquake and its impact on him and his whole universe and I was absolutely blown away. He has taught me and my family so much! I wanted to share some of that experience with other interested OHSU faculty."

Dr. Harrison sees Peter's story of resilience and perseverance as an example of how to consider medicine and its practice in a world where necessity is often the driver. "I think we become more appreciative of what we have here in the United States when we engage with medical students like Peter who face an exceptionally large number of questions that have much more to do with basic human survival," she said. "We're looking forward to facilitating and engaging in more opportunities like this at OHSU."