Deb/Debbie Gatzow is an LPN of 41 years. She has been married to her husband Keith for 35 years and they live in Forest Lake, MN. Together, they have four children, six granddaughters, and one great grandson.
How did you find CHI? What trip(s) have you gone on with CHI?
I like to think that Haiti found me, and it was through my friend and coworker Jan Palmer that I found my way there as a CHI medical team member. Jan had traveled to Haiti several times, but her trip in 2012 was with CHI. She was connected to CHI through Theresa Christiansen and shared with me the many amazing stories about her trips. Having hoped to go on my own volunteer trip someday, I signed up to travel with Jan to Haiti on the September 2013 CHI medical team. Never did I imagine that this would be the first trip of many. I have been back to Haiti with CHI three times since 2013 and will return again in January 2019.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
The first trip was, to say the least, overwhelming, amazing emotional, happy, and sad. So many emotions go through you in those seven days, and I will forever cherish the memories. This wonderful country is home to some of the most amazing people I could have ever hoped to meet in my lifetime. In searching for the "moments that stand out", I recall...
My initial walk into Do Digue, so many people smiling and greeting you, a true welcome that makes you feel right at home. There were so many new friends to meet, but only a week to complete the clinic and see to the care of these families.
The many babies, so frail and fragile. I remember coming into Fondol and the area that would be our clinic site. Just as I was dropping my bag, I saw off to the side a mother holding a very sick baby. Jan and I were some of the first in the village, and I called out for a provider. Dr. Chris Buresh was the first one down the hill. I brought this mom and baby to him and said, "We have your first patient." In just a few moments, this baby was getting medical care. Ted Miller was with us on this trip too, and we all said a prayer around this baby, as survival was no guarantee. We could only hope that the medications given would quickly take effect. I kept this mom and baby in my sights for the day, checking the baby's temperature, giving more medication for the fever, and showing Mom how to push water on the baby. This was a first for me, as I was using a bag of water. When we left that day, the baby was more alert, fever under control, and Mom looked more relaxed. I walked away from this day knowing that what CHI does here makes a difference to the families. I was so proud and honored to be a part of this team.
A lot of fond moments on all my past trips, as well as sad times. This past January, upon arriving into Do Digue, I went back to the nursing treatment site to look for my friend, "Mama" as I always called her, only to have Chris come up to tell me that she had passed some time prior to this trip. This was another time that reminded me how important CHI and Haiti are to me. I have told myself that I hope to continue traveling with CHI each year until my legs won't take me anymore.
The journey up the mountain to Fondol in 2016. The road had been washed out from heavy rain. The only option to get there was to walk or take a donkey. I chose the latter, and I can now take that off my bucket list! What did I learn on this ride? Donkeys are indeed stubborn. Oh, and they prefer to hug the edge of the mountain road. I got some great views of the valleys during that ride up and down!
What impact does CHI have on your life?
I have had the pleasure of getting to know so many of the families and kids by name, and I look forward to returning to the villages to see them again. Thursdays are extra special for me, as I have the chance to spend time with my favorite couple, Estefan and Sultan. What beautiful, strong people these two are. I will forever remember when Estefan told us that we are not just their doctors and nurses, but that we are their family and friends.
Why did you choose to donate with your time or money? Why CHI?
Many people ask me How can you take time off of work? Why do you use your vacation time and money to go to Haiti? Ever since my first trip and every year to come, all I can say to those is, How can I not? Giving of my time is an easy thing to do when you are lucky enough to find a group of friends in CHI. This group is in Haiti for the right reason, and that is to assist our Haitian friends in the improvement of their health and wellbeing through continued programs and medical support.
My family is 100% behind my decision to go to Haiti every year, and look for ways they can help with my trips. They look forward to the stories I share with them, and most important, they ask how all the families are doing each year. I am so excited to tell them after each trip that, Yes, I continue to see such an improvement in these families' health and wellbeing since my first trip.
I truly feel that I have found the passion of my career again thanks to CHI. I am lucky to have more family in my life; some come back to the States together, others stay and live in Haiti. My skills are challenged when in the villages. We so take for granted the equipment we have to medically treat people here in the States. In the villages, you start with an IV and then look for a place to hang it, whether a tree limb or nail, rather than the other way around. But as we work together as a team (and here is where I really understand the concept of teamwork), we are able to have fun during a busy day and still enjoy our time with the people we are treating and the people we work alongside.