Just last November, I couldn’t believe that I was on a plane heading to Haiti. From a brochure in my doctor’s office, I learned about the LEAP Foundation and, three years later, I had the privilege of being part of the Haiti team. It was my first time to do anything like this and here I was, traveling with 29 people, who were all set on one goal, to enhance the lives of others.
When we arrived at the hospital in Port-au-Prince, I was ready to hit the ground running for our five-day trip with about thirty-plus surgical procedures expected over the next three days. We immediately began seeing patients in evaluation, talking with their families and getting them ready for their surgeries. I had the opportunity to be the photographer on the trip. So I was able to follow the patients from pre-op through surgery, post-op, then back again into the arms of their loving parents.
One little boy, when he first opened his big eyes in the post-op area and first realized that he had use of his hand again was one of my most favorite moments on this trip. His expression, getting to see his hand open for the first time, was so moving that I will never forget that precious moment. My daughter, Jessica, was also able to travel with the team as well, so I was able to share this experience with her. Because Jessica is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Pharmacy, this trip gave her a deeper love for people. Getting to see that spark in her while she cared for these children changed her life. I also gained a huge respect for the doctors and nurses all working together during the surgeries as one singular unit. I have never witnessed anything like this experience before. The team members were literally from different walks of life back in the States, but in those two operating rooms in Haiti, it was as if they had been colleagues for years.
As with any third world country, Hatians are a resilient people, and having the opportunity to positively affect their lives in such a profound way is extraordinary. A lot of hard work and dedicated staff make LEAP mission trips happen; and, being a volunteer has opened my eyes to all that, I, one person, can do when working with such a team. How did I get picked to be a part of something so wonderful? Here I was, holding these babies, meeting their grateful parents, hearing all of their stories and taking their amazing photos. It was an unspeakable dream, a great deal of hard work, but it was the most fulfilling thing that I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of in my life. While I had known that I was supposed to be a part of something like this for eleven years and, getting to see my prayers answered not only increased my faith in God, but it absolutely showed me that God, in His timing, gives me the desires of my heart.
So when the plane departs DFW on May 1 to travel to Haiti, I will be on this flight to be a part of another LEAP surgical team. More beautiful children served, many more lives healed, and more experiences that will enrich my life all of my days. I shall most definitely not return the same.
by Janet Ortega, Volunteer