A group of Quebec health professionals was welcomed back from Haiti Thursday after spending the last two weeks working almost round the clock to help victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake.

The 22 doctors and nurses returned to Montreal around 3 a.m. Thursday, energized by what they were able to contribute to the country where 200,000 people died.

The volunteers were sent to the Caribbean island nation by the Center for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI), which organizes humanitarian projects around the world.

Daunting task

When the health professionals first arrived in Port-au-Prince, they were skeptical about whether they could have an impact given the lack of infrastructure and overwhelming humanitarian needs of those who survived.

Emotions were high, supplies were scarce and it was difficult at first to see how they would fit in and help victims.

"You had to do all sort of things," said Dr. Coralie Gervais. "You had to coordinate, you had to clean, you had to make beds with boxes, you have to cook."

There were shortages of blood, no anesthetic with which to perform amputations.

It all added up to an enormous task, according to Dr. Yanouchka Labrousse.

"The biggest challenge I would say was blood, because it was like enormous surgeries with blood losses and no way to replace them."

The team soon found a niche making arrangements for necessary supplies.

"I think one of our strengths as Canadians, I don't know if I can say that, but we're more humble!" proclaimed Dr. Labrousse. "We have perhaps lower egos and really want to work efficiently.

"We're used to it in our system and it really showed."


But amid the chaos and death were incredible stories of survival and perseverance.

Dr. Labrousse, a family physician from the south shore, says the visit to Haiti has infused her with pride.

"I was overwhelmed by the strength of these people," the Haitian-Canadian told CTV's Cindy Sherwin following a news conference at CECI headquarters in east-end Montreal.

"This was the dominant emotion, it was to help them overcome things and to get back to life with a little bit of care."

Experience working in a bilingual environment also helped, and the team was crucial in co-ordinating medical teams from France and the U.S., as well as the needs of patients.


The 22-member team has been replaced in Haiti by another group of 16 Quebecers that includes doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists.

Luck Mervil, a Haitian-Canadian who works with CECI, says Haitians will need mental-health professionals to help them deal with the psychological scars of what they have seen and experienced.

"Today you're walking on your legs, the next day there's an earthquake and you lost both of them. How do you deal with that?," said Mervil.