Nursing students translate for Haitian evacuees brought to TGH

L to R: USF nursing students Vatanie Turenne, Sheronda Fevrier and Joanne Leo

When the first group of Haitian earthquake survivors arrived in Tampa General Hospital’s emergency room Tuesday evening (Jan. 26), three USF nursing students of Haitian descent were there to help translate.

Sherhonda Fevrier, 22, Joanne Leo, 22, and Vatanie Turenne, all in their second year of the baccalaureate nursing program at USF, were born in the United States but speak fluent Creole. All three women have family members in Haiti who were left homeless by the devastating earthquake; a cousin of Fevrier’s perished in the disaster. All go to school full-time and work part time – Fevrier and Turenne as nursing techs and Leo as a licensed practical nurse. The trio studies together, sometimes carpools to classes and socializes.

“We really wanted to go to Haiti to help, but because of our obligations we couldn’t, so God brought Haiti to us,” Leo said.

The nine critically-injured patients, transported to Tampa General Hospital from a triage staging area at Tampa International Airport, included young adults and several children accompanied by a parent or guardian. They arrived with infected burns, spinal cord injuries, broken bones and other injuries. Since Tuesday, TGH has admitted five more evacuated Haitian patients ranging from ages 3 months to 47.

On Tuesday, Fevrier, Leo and Turenne were among 12 USF undergraduate nursing students at TGH conducting a medical-surgical clinical rotation that began at 7 a.m. Late that afternoon, Fevrier, who was rotating through the ER along with Leo, overheard a physician saying that the hospital would be receiving patients from Haiti that evening. Fevrier asked TGH administrative nursing supervisor Anita McCoy, a clinical instructor for USF nursing students, if she and her two classmates who spoke Creole could stay on as volunteers after their shift to help translate.

“She said ‘please can we do this?’” said McCoy. “They were more than ready to help, and I was glad to help facilitate that opportunity. They are outstanding students – strong, independent and real go-getters… Tampa General was extremely happy to have them there to translate.”

After completing their rotations (Vatanie was working on a cardiac surgery floor of the hospital) and a post-clinical conference, the three students grabbed a quick bite to eat and went back to the ER to wait for the patients. They began to arrive by ambulance shortly before 10 p.m., and teams of physicians, nurses and other health practitioners sprang into action to stabilize the patients – many with extensive medical needs.

“The first patient I saw was a 23-year-old man who had been in a car when the earthquake hit and the vehicle exploded,” Fevrier recalled. “He had third degree burns on both arms and his face was burned.”

Leo remembers another young man, whose spinal cord had been crushed, paralyzing him from the mid-chest down. “It was very sad,” she said. “I had to explain to him the CT scan… that he would be put into a long, narrow tube… and that everyone was trying to do the best they could to help him.”

For nearly three hours, the three students translated – sharing patients’ experiences with the ER staff, explaining procedures patients would be undergoing, helping facilitate informed consent, reassuring and consoling, obtaining phone numbers of patients’ relatives for the chaplain. The patients were quickly treated and sent to hospital rooms, many in intensive care.

Fevrier made it home about 1 a.m. – exhausted, yet grateful, after a 16-hour day. “I’m surprised I made it through the night without crying, but I feel blessed to have been able to do something.”

The next day, Patricia Burns, PhD, dean of the USF College of Nursing, received a call from Rhonda Warren, RN, MSN, emergency department education specialist at TGH, who commended the nursing students’ for their initiative and volunteer service.

Postscript: Fevrier continues to visit and help translate for recovering Haitian patients and their relatives in the pediatric intensive care and burn units at TGH.

- Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, and photo by Eric Younghans; USF Health Communications

USF Health physicians mobilize to treat Haitian patients