First-year University of Central Florida medical student Anika Mirick and a few of her classmates recently learned a valuable lesson — outside the classroom — about the power of medicine.
Thanks to Mirick and several other UCF students who just returned from Haiti on a volunteer medical mission, a man who was given just days to live has a chance at survival.
The students were in Haiti for a week to work at a tent hospital in Port-au-Prince as volunteers with Project Medishare, a nonprofit group from University of Miami that has provided medical aid to the impoverished island nation for more than two decades.
While there, Mirick and her classmates came upon 20-year-old Ginel Thermosy, who had just been diagnosed with advanced leukemia. His condition had deteriorated so badly that doctors in Haiti estimated Thermosy had less than a month to live. His only hope was to get to a hospital in the United States where he could get the care he needed.
"We just started brainstorming," said Mirick, 25, who was joined in Haiti by Luke Lin, 32, and Lynn McGrath, 25.
The Harvard Medical School hospital physician who had been treating Thermosy had been unsuccessful during her volunteer stint to find an American hospital to take him and left him in Mirick's care.
"She had tried all her connections, and she couldn't get him help," said Mirick. "She was so upset that she couldn't do anything for him. I remember she gave him her North Face jacket. She told him he would be cold if he ever made it to the United States."
Mirick and the other UCF students began e-mailing assistant professor of medicine Rebecca Moroose and other faculty, determined to get Thermosy help. Mirick also copied Clarence Brown, chief executive officer at MD Anderson Cancer Center — the sponsor organization that donated Mirick's four-year scholarship. Brown immediately agreed to take Thermosy.
"Without any hesitation, we said yes. I know Anika's compassion and caring as a young medical student. I certainly wanted to honor her request," said Brown, who also serves as Mirick's mentor. "I'm hoping that they see altruism as an important component of being a physician."
Brown was also moved by Thermosy's story.
The 20-year-old is from Jeremie, Haiti, about 120 miles from Port-au-Prince. He had been feeling sick for some time and went from one doctor to another, but nobody could tell him what was wrong with him. Without any money — his family's home and livelihood were destroyed by the earthquake — he could not find a doctor who could properly diagnose his illness.
Thermosy's older brother later found out about Project Medishare and sent him there. Finally, Thermosy was told by Mirick that he had "cancer of the blood."
"I felt very sick," Thermosy said through an interpreter at MD Anderson, where he is receiving chemotherapy and other treatment. "I had severe stomachache, cramps, fever. I didn't feel like I was going to live."
Within one day on Friday, Thermosy was able to get a 30-day visa allowing him to enter the U.S. But that was after his brother took a boat, and then a car that later broke down, to get Thermosy's birth certificate to him so that his passport could be expedited.
After flying back from Haiti on Saturday on a chartered jet with retired Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning and other sports stars who were visiting Haiti to bring attention to Project Medishare, the UCF students climbed into McGrath's Chevy Tahoe and made the five-hour drive to Orlando. On the way, they stopped at McDonald's to introduce Thermosy to all-American dining. By 6 a.m. Sunday, they made it Orlando Health's emergency room, where he was quickly admitted and stabilized.
Once he was under doctors' care at MD Anderson, Mirick asked two Creole-speaking classmates, Romeo Joseph and Rose Dupont — who had also previously volunteered with Project Medishare — to go to the hospital so they could let Thermosy know he was in good hands.
"He didn't know what was happening to him," said Dupont. "He didn't know it was the treatment he was receiving that was making him nauseous. He thought he was getting sicker."
Lesson for all involved
For Thermosy, the experience has been a lesson in compassion and care. Mirick and her classmates have learned so much more than they bargained for.
"I've learned that for every bright story, there are a million tragic stories to be told," said McGrath.
Lin said he will never forget Thermosy's expression of hope when he landed at Miami International Airport.
"He was plucked from a tent full of mud to the best care he could receive," said Mirick. "This is what medicine is all about."
Fernando Quintero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-650-6333.
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