Haiti mission ‘life changing’ for Jamestown dentist
It was the journey of a lifetime, Rudman said of the dental mission trip he took to Baudin, Haiti.
The Jan. 13 earthquake was what originally inspired him to go to Haiti, he said.
“I researched on the Internet to find a mission that was going to Haiti, where I could do dentistry. That’s pretty much the only thing I’m good at – and I found this dentist from Chicago,” he said.
The dentist he found was Dr. David Schubert of Illinois, the founder of the Baudin, Haiti Dental Mission. Since 1996, Schubert has led this non-profit charity organization on three to four missions to Haiti each year.
Rudman set out with three other dentists and three dental assistants – including his 16-year-old niece, Alexie Rudman.
They treated more than 250 patients in eight days in the rural mountain community of 40,000, located approximately 42 miles outside of the Haitian capital of Portau Prince.
Journey to Baudin
When they arrived in Haiti, Rudman said, customs in the capital of Port-au-Prince were “non-existent.” To get to Baudin, they chartered a taxi-type truck called a tap-tap, he said.
Traveling through the landscape of the nation’s capital, Rudman saw images of a city that was clearly still devastated by the recent earthquake.
“A lot of the buildings were flattened like a pancake and then, next door, would be a house or a building that was untouched,” he said.
Because the tap-tap traveled at only 10 miles per hour, it took Rudman and the rest of the team six long and treacherous hours to reach the mission’s headquarters.
“The road was one lane, nonpaved, sheer cliffs and rocky,” he said.
The clinic in Baudin consisted of five basic treatment chairs, sterilization equipment and a suction system, Rudman said. It was powered by a gasoline generator.
The patients ranged from young children to the elderly. Many suffered from excruciating pain and infections, and showed virtually no signs of previous dental care.
“Out of 255 patients, I never saw one patient with a filling,” he said.
Medications, including amoxicillin, novocaine and ibuprofen, along with consumable medical supplies like gauze, sutures and scrubs, were provided by the dental team, all of whom paid their own travel expenses.
Other necessities, such as masks and gloves, were donated by Jamestown Hardware, Rudman said.
Collectively, the team extracted 955 teeth in eight days. Rudman himself was able to complete 28 fillings.
Because the parish includes 40,000 people and five churches, a local priest – Father Camy – helped to organize a system so that patients could visit the clinic each day in an orderly manner.
Each morning, Father Camy would notify a priest from one of the five surrounding towns’ churches, who would then send 50 patients, or church members, to the mission for dental treatment.
Many patients traveled up to two hours to get to the clinic – some in bare feet.
“Not one patient came by vehicle. There were no cars there, really,” Rudman said. “They would walk through the valleys and the mountains to get to the clinic and they would wait all day.”
Although weary, they were excellent patients, he said.
“When they got up, they would nod their head [in thanks]. Or the men would give a little fist pump,” he said. “Almost all of the patients would come in and point to their bad teeth that they wanted out.”
Rudman said the dentists would then look into the patients’ mouths and tell an interpreter the teeth numbers that needed to come out. The interpreter would then communicate this information back to the patient.
Rudman said he couldn’t help but feel a language barrier when communicating with the Creole-speaking locals. Although an interpreter came along on the mission, Rudman said that the presence of his trilingual niece was the real blessing.
A junior at Barrington High School, Alexie Rudman was able to pick up Creole within one week, he said. Creole is very similar to French, which she’d already spoken fluently.
Alexie Rudman said it was worth it to miss seven days of school to partake in the mission.
“It’s definitely shocking if you’ve never been exposed to this, or have never been to a third-world country,” she said.
She was both shocked and relieved by the overall joyful outlooks of the locals.
“They had absolutely nothing. They were really far away from any aid, so they didn’t get a lot of help from their country. But they were still really welcoming and appreciative of their life,” she said.
While in Haiti, the priest provided meals for the dental mission, Ken Rudman said. They ate rice and beans, pasta, vegetables, chicken – even goat.
After dinner, the missionaries would play guitar with the locals, teaching one another songs and games. Alexie taught them how to make hemp bracelets.
“Every day after the clinic was done, she would go play soccer with the locals,” Rudman said. “She taught them crafts. She played guitar with the kids.”
At night, the missionaries slept on beds inside large tents. Previous missions had slept in the church rectory, which has since been destroyed by the earthquake.
“I slept perfectly, because I worked so hard,” he said. “It was such a peaceful existence.”
Although violence and crime were present in other areas of Haiti at this time, Baudin was just the opposite, he said.
“We never had any worries about safety,” he said.
The doctor also found a peaceful existence with the locals, whom he said were kind and appreciative toward the missionaries at all times.
One, in particular, was named Frederick. As the “village elder,” Frederick was the closest person to a medical professional whose knowledge and skill the residents had access to, Rudman said.
“He’s about 70 years old and he thought he was a doctor. He would carry a medical book around and he would treat people when the Americans weren’t there,” he said.
According to Rudman, he and Frederick took an immediate liking to one another.
“He helped me communicate with the patients,” he said. “He helped to put the patients at ease.”
Future missions Rudman said taking the time away from his busy dental practice was well worth it. He encourages others who wish to visit Haiti to put their skills to use, whatever those skills may be.
“I think people can go there on missions to help with construction, public health awareness and education,” he said.
Rudman worries that despite the thousands of people and organizations who have donated money and materials to Haiti, materials often don’t get released quickly enough – especially in areas like Baudin.
“In the mountains where we were, the priest was organizing reconstruction,” he said. “I think it will go slow because of the huge lack of materials.”
Rudman plans to return to Haiti in October or January, only this time he hopes to bring along his wife, Ann Rudman, who is also in the dental field.
“It’s pretty addictive,” Rudman said of his desire to return. “I’m not going to predict the future, but aside from my family and practice, I would like to spend more time over there doing dentistry.”
Alexie Rudman would also like to return to Haiti in January, she said. She regularly speaks on the phone and practices her Creole with several of the locals with whom she developed friendships during her eight days in Baudin.
It is clear that the 16-year-old was profoundly moved by the experience.
“When we left on Monday, she cried when our truck pulled out of town,” Rudman said. “She was so sad to leave.”
Alexie said that what most surprised her about the mission was the happiness that radiated from the locals that she met.
“I’m in love with Haiti,” she said.