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Toothbrushes for Haiti

February 22, 2012 - Ever since Kelly Eberhardt has been going to Haiti to help provide medical relief after the 2010 earthquake, her mom Carol has always wanted to help make a difference.

"I don't know what made me think about this but all of the sudden it hit me," Carol said . "I just thought when your mouth is Ok the rest of your body kind of follows."

Carol is looking to send Kelly with 500 toothbrushes and packs of toothpaste on her next trip in June.

Kelly who is a 1988 graduate of Clarkston High School, is a pediatrician in Stanton Island New York has always had an interest in international work. She got her first chance as a medical student when her husband Ibrahima, took her to spend time with his family in West Africa. There she worked at an Infectious Disease Clinic.

"I probably would have joined the Peace Corp if it would have worked into my life, but never did," she said. "I just always have been interested in helping other cultures and people in other places of the world."

When the earthquake happened in Haiti she knew she wanted to help. She began searching the internet and found a pediatrician friend on Facebook who was going with a small grassroots organization called Explorers Sans Fronteries or "Explorers Without Borders." Kelly contacted them to see if she could help out. In June 2010 she bordered a plane with a team of 12 to spend a week in Haiti.

They provided medical relief mostly, but she said a person doesn't have to be a medic to go along.

"We actually had first year medical students who knew nothing, had not even started med school yet, a couple nurses and some health educators," she said. "We like to include an education component to what we're doing."

Kelly said they each bring as many pharmaceuticals as they can, such as Tylenol, Motrin, antibiotics, vitamins, creams, Corte zone cream and divide them up into five equal piles for the five days they see patients. They also have giveaways such as toothbrushes and toothpaste, flip flops, and clothing.

They have a mobile clinic and travel from tent city to tent city seeing anywhere from 150-250 patients a day. They also visit an orphanage where they see around 150 kids. Typical illnesses are skin rashes, vaginal infections because the water is not clean and common aches and pains such as headaches, stomachaches and backaches,

"There are people who are sick but most just need Motrin, Tylenol, and vitamins," she said. "Things we take for granted here and we can just run out to the pharmacy and always have in the house."

Kelly also noted that they're not just outsiders coming in to provide relief, but there is a Haitian ran nursing school they work close with.

"We leave our leftover supplies with them," she said. "If people need close follow up they go there because they actually have a medical staff there."

Following her trip in 2010 Kelly was one of the recipients of the International Humanitarian Peace Award. She was "taken back" because she didn't really see her self as a humanitarian.

"When they called me and said I was being given this award I was a little shocked because at that point I had only been to Haiti once. I was just doing what I love to do and not really thinking about it, but it was definitely an honor," Kelly said. "People who were getting awards with me were military people and a lot of clergy people. It was a nice surprise."

Kelly returned to Haiti in March 2011 and said she plans on continuing to go once a year, even after her next trip, as long as the organization is still going.

"Now that I have two kids (Muhammadou, 11 Saliou, 6) I couldn't really travel for long periods of time," she said. It's great because this is a week at a time and it's close to the United States so it's not too far away."

As for the conditions, Kelly said they're getting more "permanent housing" to replace the tents. "Permanent" she said means "an 8x8 or 10x10 metal slabs, with wooden sides and a tin roof," but there are still thousands and thousands in tents.

"Amazing they live in a tent with no running water and no electricity and still get their kids off to school everyday," she said. "But they struggle getting basic necessities of clean water and enough food."

As far as her mom helping her out, Kelly said "It's great."

"My mom has always been volunteering, always donating her time to different organizations, helping them organize or sit on their boards or something Maybe that's where I get it from," Kelly said with a laugh. "We're grateful to her."

Those interested in donating new toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste can drop them off at John Stevenson's Dentist Office located in downtown Clarkston at 22 S. Main Street or at Frank & Me at 20 S. Main Street.

For more information on Explorers Without Borders checkout www.explorersss.org.

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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