A Charlotte County orthopedist’s good friend, a 56-year-old Haitian doctor, was in dire straits four weeks ago when his leg was amputated up to his thigh in a Haitian hospital.
The patient, Dr. Seneque Philippe, is a husband and the father of three minor children. He also is the only doctor serving 120,000 residents in a remote, mountainous region of Haiti, where he would make his rounds on foot. His friend is orthopedist Stephen P. Schroering, M.D., of Associates in Orthopedics in Punta Gorda.
The World Health Organization has classified Haiti as a “Fourth World” country, said Schroering. The designation of Haiti from Third World to Fourth World was due to the fact that WHO believed it would not be able to ascend to a higher status.
Haiti’s lack of modern medicine and other conveniences that developed nations take for granted, was apparent in the hospital where Philippe was treated; although he had an excellent surgeon at the hospital in Haiti. The surgeon there was a year behind Schroering in his medical school residency at Loma Linda University Health in California.
Upon awakening from surgery, Philippe was advised that “the hospital had no painkillers,” Schroering continued.
“Imaging waking up from having your leg amputated up to your thigh and being told that you could only have Advil,” he said, calling the situation “horrific.” Schroering said that throughout Haiti, medical supplies and medicines are sorely lacking.
“Philippe had a very malignant cancer in his leg — an osteosarcoma,” said Schroering. The Grande-Anse region where Philippe lives has very rugged terrain with impassable roads. Over the years Philippe had used motorcycles and bicycles to tend to his people, but over time he resorted to walking.
“His main means of transportation is his two legs,” Schroering said. Losing a leg and possibly not getting the proper follow-up treatment meant that those 120,000 people would be without a local doctor.
Schroering called Philippe a “humanitarian; ever since he left medical school 30 years ago, he tended to the poor,” he continued. Schroering worked side by side with Philippe when he went on humanitarian missions to Haiti over the past 12 years, sometimes going there several times a year. He came to know Philippe in a roundabout way, because of a little boy who had a rare condition.
When he was in his residency in Loma Linda, Schroering met Miriam Frederick, director of the Harvest World Missions. She founded an orphanage 30 years ago located near the runway at Port Au Prince airport. Her non-government organization provides aid to the Haitian people, among other charitable endeavors.
Frederick brought a Haitian boy whom she would later adopt to the hospital for Proteus syndrome. “There are less than 500 cases in world history,” Schroering said. The condition is what Joseph Merrick, known as the “Elephant Man,” had, he explained. The doctor in the boy’s Haitian community was going to amputate his arm, but the boy was sent to Loma Linda where his limb was saved by a renowned orthopedics professor.
Today, that boy is a gifted artist, Schoering said.
Over the time that Frederick was in Loma Linda, she talked about World Harvest Missions and Dr. Philippe. Schroering, who had gone on humanitarian missions to China to deliver medical care, made arrangements to visit Haiti and serve as a volunteer doctor.
Once there, he and Philippe became good friends as Schroering helped to serve Philippe’s patients. He also helped out at the orphanage in Port Au Prince.
Schroering said that conditions are so desperate in Haiti that mothers have tried to give their babies to visitors, urging them to bring their child back to the United States, since the child might not survive to the age of 5.
“That’s how desperate they are,” Schroering said.
Schroering said that the children in Philippe’s rural area lack everything — clean water, food, medicine, and more. He said that “food is the biggest thing for children; a Haitian doesn’t leave a morsel on their plate.” He said that “all are infested with worms,” and that when he would treat some of them, they’d literally be throwing up worms that would also exit their bodies elsewhere.
Schroering said he’s witnessed children drinking dirty pond water.
“They don’t have clean water, and the number one killer is dysentery,” he said. “The infant mortality rate from birth to age 5 is 20% to 30%. Many Haitian children are suffering from severe malnutrition and are starving to death,” he said.
Philippe has been treating his flock for such childhood illnesses as the measles, mumps and chicken pox — diseases we seldom see in developed countries. He’s also treated serious illnesses in adults, such as cancer. His presence when the volunteers leave is the only link to medicine from the outside world that the people of the Grande-Anse area have.
World Harvest Mission and its volunteers provide food, medicine and clean water filters in addition to medical care, but the steady presence in the mountains is their local physician — Dr. Seneque Philippe.
That is why Schroering made it his priority to do everything he could to ensure that Philippe would get top-notch medical care here in Florida. He rallied the medical staffs of hospitals and clinics in the community, and many gave financial contributions for Philippe’s care.
“They all teamed together to reassure that Philippe would get better.”
It was decided that Philippe would receive his chemo and radiation therapies at Fawcett Memorial Hospital. Later, he would receive home care and after that, he would be fitted with a prosthetic device so that once again he could walk to his patients in the mountains of Haiti.
“When asked whether he was the one responsible for putting all this together and “rallying the troops,” so to speak, Schroering, who is a quiet, low-key and pensive man, tried to deflect attention away from himself, but admitted, “I guess you could call me the facilitator.”
Miriam Frederick was in Haiti on Monday, getting Philippe ready to make the 700-mile trip from Port Au Prince to Florida. The flight takes just one hour and 20 minutes, said Schroering, but Haiti might as well be on the other side of the world.
One thing is certain: Schroering will return to Haiti to provide medical care and work with Philippe and Frederick, as helping the people of Haiti “is where my heart is.”
His life-saving deed for Philippe was brought to the Sun’s attention by Dr. David M. Klein, a Charlotte County ophthalmologist and co-founder of the Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic.
Without American medical insurance, the treatment that Philippe needs would cost between $250,000 and $350,000, said Schroering. But thanks to the kindness and contributions of others, he will be able to get the treatment he needs and eventually return to his people and family members who were not allowed to leave the country.
Schroering said it was probably because Haiti’s government feared that Philippe might not return if his family was with him in the U.S.
Pretty soon Philippe will begin to receive treatment at Fawcett, but “The big part is yet to come,” said Schroering. “The treatment is pretty harsh, and so are many complications (that could arise),” he added.
Schroering said he is grateful for the local medical community “that reached out” and wanted to help. He gave “shout-outs” to all, and he singled out Klein and the other Andes co-founder Dr. Mark Asperilla for all that they’ve done for local residents lacking insurance or funds for medical care.
It does take a village to save a village, even in the remote mountains of Haiti.
If you would like to learn more about the World Harvest Missions, go to their Facebook page. Donations are always welcome. Locally, you can help volunteer your services at the Andes clinic, which, during this pandemic, is lacking both donations and volunteers.