Dr. David Sniezek Recounts Successful Volunteer Medical Relief Mission in Haiti

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American physician Dr. David P. Sniezek, a pioneer in integrative rehabilitation medicine in the Washington, D.C. area, spent nine days in May volunteering in Haiti.

Mon P'tit Village in Leogane (epicenter), Haiti

We quickly realize that we cannot see every person in need, relieve every pain, nor completely eliminate the stress and sadness

Dr. David P. Sniezek, a medical staff consultant at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC and the medical director of the Advanced Integrative Rehabilitation and Pain Center in Foggy Bottom, spent nine days volunteering his integrative medicine skills in Haiti.

A pioneer in integrative rehabilitation in the Washington, D.C. area, Sniezek specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation, pain management, and integrative medicine, including acupuncture.

Sniezek traveled with a small team of professionals providing relief from pain and post-traumatic stress suffered from the catastrophic earthquake that virtually leveled Port-au-Prince last January.

Sniezek, along with three other members from Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB), treated over 700 patients in need of care. They treated hundreds of displaced Haitians, including many orphans, living in tent cities in Leogane and Port-au-Prince. They also treated many medical volunteers from the American Red Cross, Hands On Disaster Relief, and at the General Hospital.

"There was no acupuncture being performed until AWB arrived,” said Sniezek, 54. “We quickly realized that we cannot see every person in need, relieve every pain, nor completely eliminate the stress and sadness.”

Sniezek performed the first integrative medicine treatment in Haiti at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince on a young girl with a leg injury who responded so well to treatment that she was able to participate in rehabilitation and walk with much less pain the same day.

AWB was formed in September 2005 in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. AWB provided free community acupuncture treatments to survivors of the hurricanes in Louisiana, including evacuees, residents, first responders, emergency personnel, volunteers and other care providers.

Sniezek said working with a credible relief organization, such as AWB, is crucial in a disaster zone. People that travel alone without support, knowing the language, or understanding the social infrastructure in Haiti can easily become a liability.

"For me the biggest challenge was the language and environment," said Sniezek. Fortunately, AWB provided drivers and translators which made their jobs much easier. As a result, his team was able to take their work to the countryside where there were cities of tents.

Another goal for this mission and AWB was to develop a school to provide training for this treatment method to the Haitian people.

"AWB is working with government health officials to make this dream a reality," said Sniezek. "One of the organizational challenges facing AWB is funding. AWB needs a steady flow of funds to continue their work.”

Each member for this mission was hand-picked and each assigned tasks based on skills needed for this particular disaster. "On this mission medical first aid knowledge was required and, fortunately, we were stocked with the appropriate medications and supplies,” said Sniezek.

Sniezek recalls an incident in the field when a construction worker approached him on foot with a fairly deep and lengthy laceration to his hand requesting medical attention. "We were far from any medical facility and he was bleeding through a dirty shirt that he wrapped around his hand. As far as supplies were concerned, we did not have everything that I wanted, but we had everything that I needed to clean, repair, and dress the wound," said Sniezek. "Before we leave the safe house in the morning we prepare by bringing filtered water and rations for two days in the event that we experience another disaster, such as an aftershock," says Sniezek.

Sniezek says their success was based on the support of their parent organization, AWB, and the unique set of skills and personalities of his team. "We are very proud of what we were able to accomplish here in Haiti," said Sniezek, "And we plan to stay together as a team ready to deploy when and wherever the next disaster strikes."

Sniezek's team provides impartial help to people in need without discrimination and independent of political power. "We do not expect to change the world. We work alongside people that struggle to survive violence or neglect and we constantly aim to improve the quality of care we provide," says Sniezek.

If going to a disaster zone is not an option, donations to reputable aid agencies working on the ground can be just as valuable.

About Dr. Sniezek
David P. Sniezek, DC, MD, FAAMA, FAAIM is a 1989 graduate of the Rehabilitation Medicine program at the George Washington University Medical Center, the Harvard Medical School Structural Acupuncture for Physicians program, and the UCLA School of Medicine Medical Acupuncture for Physicians program. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, a Fellow of the American Academy of Geriatric Medicine, and American Association of Integrative Medicine. Dr. Sniezek has been recognized by the Washingtonian Magazine as a “Top Doctor” in the field of Rehabilitation Medicine.

For more information you can contact Dr. Sniezek's office at 202-296-3555 or visit his website at Advanced Integrative Rehabilitation and Pain Center.


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