May 10, 2010
By Jason Krump
Just days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, Washington State Athletics team physician Ed Tingstad received a call from a longtime friend.
"He said, `We need lots of help,'" Tingstad recalled.
The call was from Jim Lindgren, a medical school classmate of Tingstad and president of the charitable organization Window of Hope. Upon his arrival to the stricken country, Lindgren assessed the situation and called Tingstad for advice, and help.
A month later, Tingstad was on a plane to Haiti with the mission to provide whatever help he could.
Tingstad serves as one of the numerous examples of Washington State University's contribution to the worldwide humanitarian effort for Haiti.
The tragedy sparked relief efforts throughout the University immediately after the earthquake that remains ongoing. Notable in these efforts is the Cougar Haitian Relief Fund, established by the Washington State University Foundation, which has raised nearly $16,000 to date.
The WSU Athletic Department has joined the cause, examples ranging from Tingstad's efforts to a campaign spearheaded by WSU student-athletes.
Student-Athletes lending a hand
The WSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is a committee comprised of student-athletes from each sport in the Athletic Department, offering insight and input to the WSU athletic administration on student-athlete experiences at the school.
When the Haiti earthquake struck, the input the committee sought was to spearhead a relief effort for the country.
The campaign, named Cougs Helping Haiti, involved collecting donations at two basketball games, a women's game vs. Washington, Jan. 29, and a men's game vs. Arizona a week later.
The tragedy in Haiti, says SAAC President Chima Nwachukwu, affected the student-athletes deeply.
"We watched what is going on in the news around us and the news of the earthquake in Haiti overwhelmed us," says Nwachukwu, a senior safety on the Cougar Football team. "We spoke with (Senior Associate Athletic Director) Bob (Minnix), about what we can do to give people a hand. We thought it was a good idea to raise money. We both came up with the idea to raise funds during the basketball games.
"We set up tables at the basketball games, we made flyers, we fixed the donation boxes, we contacted the Red Cross to make sure it was okay to donate money to their cause and they were really grateful," added Nwachukwu.
In all, Cougs Helping Haiti raised $1,740.01 for Haiti earthquake relief efforts from donations collected at the basketball games.
"The generosity of Cougar Nation was really overwhelming," Nwachukwu said. "We have a really kind and thoughtful student-athlete body," added Nwachukwu. "A lot of people volunteered their time and efforts into this. We are really grateful for the administration for helping us with this and we're thankful for all the athletes who were involved with putting this on."
The money raised was given to the American Red Cross for its Haiti Relief effort.
"The outpouring of support has been great," said Scott Bergstedt, Chairman of the Local Advisory Committee for the Whitman County Red Cross. "The students coming to us and the opportunity to work together in this have been a super way to do things. It is such a good opportunity for the students to do something bigger than themselves."
Helping Haiti on the ground
Weeks after the SAAC's Cougs Helping Haiti campaign, Tingstad was helping the country on site, heeding the call from Lindgren.
Tingstad, who played fullback for the WSU football team from 1986-88, and Lindgren met while attending medical school at WSU in 1989, beginning an over two-decade long friendship.
It didn't take long for Lindgren to determine that with the overwhelming needs of Haiti, he needed to seek advice from his friend.
"We were seeing multiple trauma patients coming to our makeshift clinic and there really wasn't anywhere to refer them at the time," says Lindgren, a board certified physician in emergency medicine, pediatrics, and internal medicine. "Two functioning hospitals were overrun and we were seeing fractures, wounds, and infections."
"It became very apparent that there were not resources on the ground for a surgeon to be a surgeon," Tingstad said.
Tingstad, along with other surgeons, nurses, and anesthetists from Pullman, traveled to Haiti on Feb. 24. The group also brought medical supplies, made possible through donations from the Pullman community and hospitals, and was able to fly to the country because of donations of jets from private corporations, including Pullman's Schweitzer Engineering.
After a stop in Colorado to pick up more medical personnel, the group arrived in Haiti where they were greeted by the United States military at an airport in Port-au-Prince.
"It was really nice to see American uniform officers coming out to meet you at the plane saying this is where you go." Tingstad said.
It was when the crew ventured outside the airport grounds that reality hit.
"The real eye-opener is when we needed to move the supplies from the airport terminal outside on the streets," Tingstad explained. "We had to wade through the crowds to get the supplies into the vans and trucks and literally people just wanted anything you could provide them.
"That was heart-wrenching," Tingstad added, "because we learned very quickly if we gave one person one thing it caused basically a mob so you really couldn't give anything away in that setting."
Quisqueya Christian School, located in Port-au-Prince, had been transformed into what Tingstad described as an "earthquake crisis center." The Quisqueya crisis center, according to Lindgren, was working with 20 different hospitals throughout Haiti to resource needs.
"They understood what the needs were throughout the country and had the ability to find personnel for them," Lindgren said.
Tingstad's group traveled to the town of Jérémie, 120 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The group could travel to the town by car, but it would take a 12-hour drive to get there. Just a month earlier, a United Nations food convoy encountered a highjacking attempt near the town's airport.
Because of this, a flight was arranged to transport Tingstad and his party. "Landing on a dirt runway scared me to death," Tingstad said. "Thankfully, they were American pilots, and they did a wonderful job, but it was new experience to land on a dirt runway."
Tingstad's party met with a group of Cuban surgeons and physicians who were already stationed in Jérémie.
"That's very interesting because of the language barrier," Tingstad said of working with the Cuban doctors. "They were wonderful people to work with." Normally with a population of 30,000, Jérémie's population had swelled to 100,000 according to Tingstad.
"Everybody was scared to death, nobody wanted to sleep inside," Tingstad said. "Nobody wanted to be in a structure."
Setting up an operating room with the supplies they had brought from the states, Tingstad estimates that during their five days in Jérémie, they saw over 450 patients, performed 29 surgeries, and gave out 800 prescriptions.
After returning to the States, Tingstad was able to be in contact with the Cuban physicians in Haiti in order to deliver continuity of care to the patients he saw.
"I have phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and I still correspond almost daily with several of the physicians in Haiti, getting updates and trying to arrange things to be sent directly to them so they have resources in an ongoing fashion," Tingstad said.
The extent of the tragedy was something that had a profound effect on those who offered their help to the country.
"The scope of the amount of devastation, coupled with the absolute devastation of their infrastructure, was unlike anything I and many other people had experienced," said Lindgren, who has traveled around the world, including El Salvador in November to help flood victims.
"The perspective that gave you of how fortunate we are is invaluable," Tingstad said. "I was more blessed by my experiences there. I'll never forget operating at 10:30 at night, sweating bullets under Chevy headlights made into lights to show up the operative field. The hard parts of it were there, but you left with a blessing of `Wow, we are extremely fortunate.'"
And signs of hope exist.
"The things that Ed and his team were able to accomplish really did provide true relief and healing to people. There may be an overwhelming sea of human need there, but they actually did reach in and help to bring healing to both the Haitians and Haiti as a country, and I don't think that can be overstated," Lindgren said.
"The magnitude of this disaster is so tremendous and be able to give Haiti the resources to heal itself is really the key." said Tingstad. "And that's coming, and that's encouraging."