By SHEILA OJENDYK
MYRTLE BEACH — Dr. William Greene describes the call from God as “not a hammer over your head or a strong demand but more of a whisper.” Four years ago, he first heard the whisper that would lead him to some of the most meaningful experiences of his life: serving the poorest of the poor.
The Myrtle Beach urologist is preparing for his third trip to Haiti on Oct. 26. Greene made his first trip in the late summer of 2000 with two other surgeons and an operating room technician. He will be returning to Hôpital Lumière, located in the village of Bonne Fin, with a team of 11 people. Most are health care professionals. Dr. Jeanne Fourrier, a periodontist, and her daughter, Elise Eggart, will set up a dental fluoride program in a local clinic. Dr. Jim Madory, a pathology resident, will work in the laboratory.
Greene had a second trip organized to Hôpital Lumière in December of 2001 — this time with a team of six volunteers. He found out at the last minute, however, that another urologist was already there and would be staying for nine months. He changed his plans quickly when he learned that Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in the village of Deschapelles had not had a urologist for nearly a year. On short notice, he went by himself in November of 2001.
Hôpital Lumière is outdated by American standards. Greene and his colleagues operated on patients while the electricity cut on and off, shared sleeping quarters with lizards and roaches, and learned to eat goat meat. Days were long and exhausting, and he looked forward every evening to an improvised shower using a plastic water bag filled from a dripping faucet.
Greene describes Haiti as a third-world country an hour and a half from Miami. The average income is $1 per day, 75 percent of the population is illiterate, 10 percent of all babies die in their first year of life, and the incidence of HIV is the highest in the western hemisphere. Tuberculosis, tetanus, and malaria are commonplace ailments.
Because people in Haiti die of diseases that are treatable in developed countries, Greene had to learn how to accompany people spiritually on the journey from life to death.
Greene has met many people who have inspired him on his own spiritual journey. Dr. Doug Soderdahl was the first. Soderdahl published an article about retiring from his urology practice at age 56 to do full-time medical mission work. Dr. Jean Luis, a Haitian general surgeon, gives of himself tirelessly at Hôpital Lumière. Madam Bin operates a Christian guest house in Port-au-Prince and works to bring educational opportunities to young Haitians. Rolph Richeme, a medical student, runs a clinic from an orphanage that never turns anyone away for lack of money.
Greene is actively raising money for medical supplies. He praises Americans for their generosity and says he has never been turned down when he’s asked for a donation. Businesses have loaned him very expensive surgical equipment and donated supplies and drugs.
He spoke at all Masses at St. Andrew Sept. 14 and 15 and shared his dream to purchase a basic x-ray machine costing $12,000. Hôpital Lumière does not have x-ray equipment, and orthopedic surgeons are forced to diagnose and treat fractures by sight and touch.
Greene and his team pay all of their own expenses over and above the expense of providing coverage for their practices in their absence. He has tapped into a network of medical mission organizations that provide packs of medications and supplies donated by pharmaceutical companies. Every donation of $350 pays for up to $5,000 in medications specific to the type of mission and its locale.
The team will carry antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, and HIV drugs with them to Haiti. Because the incidence of AIDS is so high, they need to have prophylactic drugs with them in case they cut themselves with a scalpel or get stuck with a needle.
Word of Greene’s work has spread — he speaks of it as planting seeds — and other health care professionals have contacted him about medical mission work. He would like to return to Haiti in another year — this time with a team of 24.
How to help
The group is accepting donations to aid their mission. Donations may be sent in care of St. Andrew Church, 503 37th Avenue North, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577.