Barbara Belony '08 - RN to BS in Nursing

 

How can it be possible that my whole country was destroyed in 30 seconds?

That was the only thought racing through the mind of Barbara Belony '08, as she drove through the center of Port-au-Prince, Haiti and witnessed the devastation wrought by a catastrophic earthquake just weeks before her arrival. Though she returned to help the nearly 200,000 locals injured by the unexpected natural disaster, she was not prepared for the dire scene that awaited her in the country she once called home.

"It was chaos," said Belony.

Three and four story buildings were reduced to filthy piles of debris. Houses were cracked in half, or swept away completely down dusty hillsides. Storefronts rested on abandoned cars and trucks that were once parked outside. In an instant, the places Barbara knew as a child completely vanished; only the impoverished people of Haiti remained.

"It was a shock. I left a country I thought I knew, and when I came back it was no longer there; everything had crumbled," said Barbara.

Barbara returned to Haiti in February of 2010, after spending nearly twenty-five years living a life full of opportunity in the United States. She left her third-world home at the age of sixteen, with her mother and older sister, following the untimely death of her father. After successfully completing high school in the states, Barbara earned her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certificate and spent years sharpening her skills at Boston's Lemuel Shattuck Memorial Hospital. Nearly a decade later, she decided to continue her education at Curry College.

"Curry had a program that was a perfect fit for me at the time. I was able to go to work, gain experience, and fit the program into my life. It was difficult, but it was worth it," said Belony, who passed the state exam and currently works as a Registered Nurse at Boston's Visiting Nurses Association.

Belony learned the basics of internal medicine through her classroom and clinical experiences. Her status as a Registered Nurse, extensive training in triage, and fluency in the Haitian language of Créole made her a perfect candidate to help in Haiti's shattered General Hospital, located in the capital of Port-au-Prince (l'hôpital de l'université d'État d'Haïti). When news of the quake reached the United States, Belony was one of the first to volunteer.

"My father taught us to help others, no matter what. Even if it was not my country, I would have done the same thing," said Belony, who ventured to Haiti with a team assembled by Partners Health.

THE LONG JOURNEY HOME

Immediately upon taking her post in the internal medicine unit of Haiti's largest triage center, Belony pulled on her latex gloves and hit the ground running for fourteen days. She worked around the clock treating patients, assisting surgeries, monitoring dialysis and adjusting medications. Some days, she bandaged wounds inflicted by falling debris. Others, she held the hands of those who would not survive.

"There was one patient who waited for me to return to take her last breath. If she was here [in the United States], she would have survived," said Belony.

While resources were extremely limited in the Hospital, Belony did all that she could to provide relief to patients in pain. For the young girl who would not eat after losing her entire family, she inserted a tube for nourishment. For the old woman who grew cold in bed waiting for painful ulcers to heal, she fashioned a blanket from ripped sheets. For the young people suffering with HIV, she altered medications and checked blood pressure monitors regularly. Though she witnessed many deaths in the course of a ten-hour shift, Belony said that helping even one of her people was worth the long journey home.

"Haitians are very resilient. They never once complained about how they were feeling, and were always grateful that someone was there to help them," said Belony.

While she received some support from the team of Haitian nurses working beside her in the ward, Belony said that the group often appeared "un-phased" by the patients' distress. It seemed that they had grown accustomed to pain and suffering, HIV and malaria, and a severe lack of medical supplies. They lacked the knowledge of how to execute a care plan, and often found their hands tied as sick patients faded away.

"The Haitian nurses had a totally different attitude when it came to the patients. They were so used to seeing death and dying; it had become a part of their life and did not faze them. Knowing that was hard for us at the beginning," said Belony, who often advocated for her patients.

Belony's initial interest in the field of medicine was actually born in her home of Port-au-Prince, during her childhood. Her father became ill and was left bedridden. As time passed, he developed sores all over his body simply because no one knew enough to move him around in the bed. Belony attributes the common mistake to the lack of education required for medical professionals in the country; a group that is rarely exposed to modern methods of health care.

"What is lacking in Haiti is education. If they know what they need to do, they will do it," said Belony.

Since leaving Haiti in the winter of 2010, Barbara has been working to earn an online degree in Health Administration. Her ultimate goal is to return to Haiti and open a chain of health clinics focused on the care of wounds. In the near future, she will lend her talent to Partners in Health once again, as they prepare to open a health center of their own in Mirbalais, Haiti next year.

Belony is confident that her calling is in Haiti, and hopes that other health care workers will follow their calling in the world.

"Global nursing is necessary, and is something that you come back from with a new perspective about what nursing is really about. It helps you to see what needs are out there, and how you can help. We need more nurses in the global field, especially when disasters are happening everyday," said Belony.

 
 
 
 

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