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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

Florida RN’s Husband, Brother Unharmed in Haiti Quake

Published January 18, 2010 4:37 PM by Karin Lillis

News reports are rife with the overwhelming tragedy Haiti faces in the wake of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that crumbled Port au Prince Jan. 12. Yet amid the despair and death, resilience and hope linger.

Here’s the story of Michele Fils-Aime, BS, RN, TNCC, a trauma nurse at Memorial Regional Hospital, Hollywood, FL — who counts herself among the “lucky ones.” Fils-Aime’s husband, Louis Eusebe, and her brother, Jean — both in Port au Prince when the earthquake struck — are safe and unharmed.

Eusebe landed in Port au Prince around 10:25 a.m. and last spoke to his wife at 3 p.m., less than 2 hours before the earthquake hit. In town on business, he was accompanied by his sister, a nurse from Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Fils-Aime was in the middle of her shift in the emergency department. Suddenly, one of her co-workers told her something had gone terribly wrong in Haiti.

When she heard about the earthquake, her knees buckled. “I didn’t hear from my husband for 3 terrifying days. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I had given up hope, thought I would never see him again,” she told ADVANCE.

Then the phone call came. “Someone called me from work and said Louis was on the line and he was OK,” Fils-Aime said. “We were all crying tears of joy and relief.” (Eusebe couldn’t reach his wife on their home line.)

During the conversation with Fils-Aime, Eusebe shared his experiences in Port au Prince. “He said he felt a jolt and heard a noise so terrible, he thought a plane had crashed. A few seconds later, the earth started to shake.”

When the quake stopped, Eusebe and his sister were still in their car, so they immediately headed north to Cap-Haitien, Eusebe’s hometown. The journey — normally 8 hours — took 2 days as they maneuvered around “a lot of blockage along the way.”

Along the route, Fils-Aime’s husband told her he saw piles of bodies along the roadways, and people bleeding and begging for help. He and his sister did “what little they could” and transported two injured people to Cap-Haitien.

Fearful of aftershocks, Fils-Aime’s brother — her only relative who lives in Haiti — has been sleeping in parks and on the streets. “Part of his house is still standing; Jean just can’t get in there,” she said. “He called this morning [Monday] and said the air has started to smell of dead bodies.”

Fils-Aime said she has heard reports indicating healthcare facilities in Cap-Haitien were expecting 350 earthquake survivors.

“I know my family is safe — I’ll never want anything else,” she said. Her husband is due home Jan. 26.
Editor’s note: Michele Fils-Aime’s husband, Louis, was scheduled to meet with the Haitian minister of health and a director of the Red Cross the day the earthquake hit. The Hollywood, FL, nurse has started a foundation, “A Dollar for Haiti,” to raise funds to build a 500-bed acute care hospital in Cap-Haitien, including clinics for women and children and an ED. Her husband had traveled to Haiti to secure approval from the Haitian government.

In the existing hospital, medical supplies are often lacking and men, women and children are crowded into the same rooms. Fils-Aime’s foundation would ensure the new hospital had properly trained medical staff and adequate supplies. Donations for the project can be sent to A Dollar for Haiti, PO Box 81-3427, Hollywood, FL, 33081.


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