Jeff Behring is no stranger to need. He's traveled to impoverished areas all over the world making deliveries with his family's Wheelchair Foundation. When he returned to Port-au-Prince recently he was dismayed by the devastation.
"I have never, ever seen anything like it," said Behring about the devastation in the capital. "It's hard to believe anybody could have gotten out of those buildings alive. I don't know how they will do the cleanup - there are tons and tons of concrete."
Danville's Wheelchair Foundation founder Ken Behring loaned his private plane to fly medical personnel and eight tons of donated medical supplies into the small island country that was hit by a 7.0 earthquake Jan. 12. Jeff Behring, director of special events, went along to help out where needed.
"When we drove through Port-au-Prince, tents were everywhere," he said. "One of the big problems was that even if their homes weren't destroyed, they were afraid to go in them. They were trying to find relatives more in the outer areas, outside of the city limits."
"We went to the very west side of Port-au-Prince and set up a medical clinic where we served about 140 for a variety of different medical needs," Behring recalled Thursday from Phoenix where he was attending a fundraiser. "In some cases, minor scrapes and abrasions had turned into bad infectious areas, some three to four inches in diameter and deep."
His team also went to small villages and other places that had no treatment. A lot of the illness and malnourishment he saw had nothing to do with the earthquake, he noted. He said Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, similar to countries in central Africa, and the earthquake compounded its desperate need.
"Almost every person needed antibiotics," he said, "to cut off infection before it happened. There was a lot of urinary track infection."
"AIDS and tuberculosis are rampant," he added. "It's one of the largest concentrations of AIDS in the world."
The plane landed first in Haiti with 20 medical personnel then returned to Miami to load up for a second flight. Behring called the director in Miami to say they had desperate need for basics, such as children's vitamins, aspirin and eye drops, so the crew bought all they could fit into the trunk of their car for the return flight with another 20 doctors.
The first flight brought 30 wheelchairs, said Behring, and the foundation will make another delivery when more wheelchairs arrive from southern China.
Behring's team included orthopedic surgeons and plastic surgeons. Behring worked for awhile at the regular medical facility at the airport and remembered in particular one miracle a plastic surgeon was able to perform.
"There was a little girl, only 6 years old, whose crushed finger needed to be removed," he recalled. "Her pointing finger was damaged beyond repair."
The plastic surgeon was also a hand surgeon and was able to operate so that she would be able to use her middle finger like a pointer and have a fully functional hand. The doctor met with the father to explain the procedure but he wasn't sure what to do. When the mother said, "Do it," the team dropped everything to perform the delicate surgery.
"It would have cost $10,000 in the U.S.," commented Behring.
The medical team also did a lot of repairs where limbs had been quickly amputated in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. They stayed in the Humanitarian Compound, where they slept in sleeping bags and tents.
"We brought our own food and water, and everyone brought their own equipment," said Behring. "We had a Mexican group next to us - surgeons - and a Spanish search-and-rescue team. There were Australians, French and Canadians. The whole world had come together."
The Wheelchair Foundation's eighth annual charity ball taking place Feb. 27 at the Blackhawk Museum will raise money for "Mobility for Haiti." The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. and include hors d'oeuvres, dinner, dancing, silent and live auctions and a live stage show. Tickets are $150 per person. Contact Jeff Behring at 648-3829 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.