DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

DU grads saving lives in aftermath of Haitian earthquake

While people in Haiti are hurting, DU alumni are helping out.

Daniel Fong (BSBA ’06, MBA ’06) will depart from Denver on March 2 to contribute his much-needed skills as a paramedic and firefighter to International Medical Relief (IMR), a nonprofit organization that provides medical care after disasters. He will work with a 20-member IMR team in clinics and field hospitals with the highest demand, and he will help establish new clinics.

“The idea to do something bounced around my head ever since the earthquake struck,” Fong says.

Fong wanted to find a way to help with the disaster recovery, and after a friend suggested IMR, he applied and was accepted to the non-governmental organization last month.

This will be Fong’s first trip providing foreign aid, but he has no hesitation about going.

“There’s always a little bit of apprehension of the unknown, but I’m using skills from my job,” Fong says. “As a paramedic, the unknown is common — it’s learning how to work within the circumstances we’re given.”

Fong says he hopes “to accomplish some good. This is sort of a later part of the disaster effort, but it’s necessary medical care.”

Fong will be in Haiti for 10 days and has raised $2,000 to cover the trip’s cost through a Web site.

Fong is just one member of the DU community who wants to help.

Fifty hours after the earthquake hit, Robert Rudich (BA ’07, MA ’08) arrived in Haiti with only a rough idea of the devastation. The commander of a search-and-extraction team volunteered for four days, mostly pulling people from collapsed buildings.
“The airport was a scene of organized chaos,” says Rudich, who flew to Port-au-Prince with a Florida charity group called Caring House. “But there was a morbid atmosphere on the streets.”

He was struck by how quiet the city seemed — no mobs, just people looking for food, water and shelter.

Rudich, a National Guardsman, served a tour in Iraq and volunteered in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He sees Haiti’s earthquake as a different kind of emergency.

In Iraq, he says, the main concern was providing security to American troops and Iraqi civilians. With Hurricane Katrina, the devastation occurred in a wealthy country with resources and manpower. In Haiti, security was less of a concern but basic rescue materials and aid workers were not as readily available.

“We always needed to assess how much of a risk we were taking,” he says. “You certainly can’t investigate all possible locations for rescue or foresee all the equipment needs, and you only get one opportunity to approach a situation.”

He described his experience rescuing a hospital patient who had been pinned underneath a bed and a concrete slab.

“We worked four hours and 55 minutes exactly to get him out,” Rudich says. “He started crawling naked over jagged rubble to get out. The guy had such a drive to live.”

Rudich believes this resilient nature is present in much of the Haitian people. Despite the overwhelming destruction, he sees this as an opportunity for one the poorest countries in the world to rebuild and reform itself for the better.

Though he wanted to stay longer, Rudich is confident he and his team made the best decisions they could with the available resources.

“It was hard work,” Rudich says. “But I can think of nothing more rewarding that I have ever done in my life.”


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