Desperate Conditions

A Tucson nurse practitioner raises money for health care in Haiti with her vivid photos

A few years back, nurse-practitioner Jennifer Trainor spent a year setting up health clinics in Haiti.

Working as health-project director for an international non-governmental organization, Trainor was in the remote northwest part of the island nation, 80 miles—and a day's journey—from the capital of Port-au-Prince. One day, some of the on-staff community health workers at the mountain clinic in Lagon learned that a woman was in labor alone, way up in the hills.

"They had heard a woman was giving birth at home," Trainor recounts in her rented Sam Hughes bungalow. The workers climbed the mountain to find the woman, but when they reached her remote house, the baby was dead. The mother was still alive but in a desperate condition.

Labor had stopped two days before, and the body of the dead child was stuck, half in and half out of her body. The workers hurried back down to the clinic and alerted the staff nurse.

"The nurse went up there and saved the mother," Trainor says. "The baby was dead and rotting. The nurse had Pitocin (to stimulate labor), antibiotics and IV fluid. She got the contractions started again. The baby was delivered, and the mother was saved."

Trainor now works in the trauma center at University Medical Center. It's hardly calmer than Haiti. "We get all the human carnage," she notes, "the accidents, the plane crashes, the helicopter crashes, a lot of the folks crossing the border."

But she still has Haiti on her mind.

This Saturday night, Trainor is staging a benefit for Lagon and the two other clinics she helped found in Haiti. She's a photographer by avocation, and she's selling 50 of her digital images, mostly black and white, with all proceeds to go to the health centers. The party is at Espresso Art, a university-area café where the work will remain up all month. Musician Spider Taylor (of the local band Michael and Spider) will play.

With the original grant that funded the startups all gone, "I want to re-invest back in those clinics," Trainor says. "I can get medications from the World Health Organization, but I need money for salaries, infrastructure and basic supplies."

She especially hopes to raise enough money for each clinic to pay one staff nurse—like the one who saved the Lagon mother's life.

"The nurses are getting about $600 a month," she says, or about $7,200 a year. Even so, Trainor is charging just $50 for a 5-by-7 print of one of her photos, $70 for an 8-by-10, and $80 for a matted and framed image. If someone can't afford those prices, she'll take less.

All the money will go straight to Haiti, says Trainor, who plans to travel there in December. The owner of the café, Danny Mannheim, is taking no cut. Trainor says he told her, "I don't want a dime."

The photos are mostly portraits, vivid images that range from cheerful children to suffering old women to lost souls in a psychiatric hospital in Port-au-Prince.

"A lot of people I know are in the photos," she says.

"School Kids" pictures three children from the village of Sous Chaude, riding a donkey on their way to school. Beyond them is a typically rustic wooden house. The kids look at the photographer somewhat warily. "There are not a lot of white people there," Trainor notes. "But people are very welcoming."

"Haiti Post-earthquake" pictures a woman in Port-au-Prince who has lost everything

"She was squatting down in the road in front of a mound of rubble. I said, 'Are you OK?' She said, 'I have no home, no food and nowhere to go.'"

Trainor rushed to Haiti after the January earthquake, which is estimated to have killed some 230,000 people. The towns where her clinics are were spared, so she spent her time in the stricken capital.

"Port-au-Prince is shocking," she says. "It looks like it was bombed. Large portions are uninhabited." There was a massive influx of people coming in from the countryside to look for food, and mass graves.

Trainor started doing photography in her late teens, and she loves it, she says—but she took few pictures on that trip.

"I was going to be a photographer or a public-health person, but not both. The U.N. asked me to take photos in an orphanage. When I got there, the camera went into my bag, and I started to work. The children were living in squalor, and they were not nourished. ... It was hard for me to wrap my mind around it."

Originally from Connecticut, Trainor, 37, earned a bachelor's of science in nursing and then a master's degree to become a nurse practitioner.

"I wanted to do international-development work with underserved populations," she says. "Six years ago, a day after getting my degree, I booked a flight to Haiti."

Her first job on the island was teaching first aid to schoolteachers; later, she went on lead aid trips, bringing other medical personnel on short-term medical missions.

On one trip, she says, "I made a needs assessment in the western part of the country." A needs assessment wasn't hard to make; rural Haiti needed just about everything in terms of health care. Then the nongovernmental organization she was working for—AMURT, based in India—got a half-million dollar grant from the Canadian International Development Agency to put together the health clinics.

"I moved there. It was to be 18 months, but ended up being 12 months. It was exhausting physically, professionally and spiritually, but we managed to get three clinics up and running."

The clinics are all in Anse Rouge, on a peninsula that stretches out into the Caribbean Sea. Lagon is in the forested mountains; Sous Chaude is in a desert, and Coridon is on the coast.

"Lagon, we built from the ground up," Trainor says proudly. "Sous Chaude and Coridon were there, but they were just shells."

Each of three clinics got a resident nurse and three community health workers, along with medications and equipment. The clinics provide all manner of emergency care—stitching up wounds, splinting broken bones—and plenty of primary care, including treatment for diabetes, high blood pressure and infections. Kids are treated for diarrhea, malnutrition and pneumonia, one of the biggest killers of kids younger than 5, Trainor says.

The health agents have been able to help with the pneumonia. Drawn from the local community and given rigorous training, the health agents fan out to visit families at their homes. If a family has a child sick with a respiratory illness, they count the child's breaths and listen to the lungs. If something is amiss, "They'd tell the parents to bring the kids to the clinic," Trainor says.

They're also a godsend in childbirth cases. Women come to the clinics to give birth, lured by the clean space and the help given by the nurse. "After a woman delivers a baby at the clinic, I'd say, 'Go check her at home.' The agents would look for signs of infection, for vaginal bleeding. They know when to tell women to come back."

The local people were beyond thrilled to have medical care locally, Trainor says. "They were, 'Oh my God, thank God. We've never had this before.'"

Trainor had more academic training than the local nurses, who studied at a school in Port-au-Prince, but she learned much from them. One "very experienced nurse," Gertha Charlecin, "ended up being my teacher. I realized what I learned in nursing school is in no way applicable in Haiti. She's used to working in a situation where there are no resources."

One time, a woman had given birth to a healthy baby at the clinic, but after 45 minutes, the placenta still had not emerged from the mother's body. The woman's blood pressure started to drop; she would die if the placenta could not be removed.

Charlecin "went in," Trainor relates. "She had delivered hundreds if not thousands of babies." She knew exactly how to get the placenta out safely, and through her efforts, another life was saved.

"A week later, the mother came back to see us, and she was absolutely fine."