volunteer of the month
Valerie McDougall Kestner is a pediatric emergency medicine physician from Leawood, Kansas. She has been traveling with CHI since October 2016.
How did you find CHI? Why CHI?
I went to medical school with Josh White and Chris Buresh, the co-founders of CHI. I kept reading in various platforms about their work in Haiti and was so amazed that they had created something as impactful as CHI. Here I was at home obsessed over work and fretting about how to be a perfect mother, in my own little world, while these two were changing lives internationally. I always figured that I would not be brave enough to do any sort of global health work, but one day during a phase of listening to Joel Osteen talk radio, I decided to sign up for a trip. I never considered traveling with any group besides CHI, because I knew that if Josh and Chris were at the helm, then it was a solid, thoughtful, well-run, ethical organization. I made/asked my husband Brian go with me on that first trip. It was so eye-opening and meaningful. There was much medical need and so much gratitude from the patients that relied on CHI's continuity of care in order to stay well. I met so many people that made an impact on me, and before we even left Haiti at the end of that first trip, they were signing back up for their next trip back to Haiti. I did too.
What trip(s) have you gone on with CHI? What was your favorite part of the trip?
I have gone on 3 October trips (2016, 2017, 2018), 1 June trip (2018), and 1 January trip (2019). My next trip is in June 2019. It is impossible to name one favorite part of one trip!
When I think about CHI, what comes to mind is sitting at one of the tables on the veranda in Do Digue. I am caring for patients with Dr. Ben outside under the palm trees with the roosters, goats, and pigs nearby. I am watching the crowds wait by the little stream that passes through the village. Gary, the mayor of Do Digue, is on his way to my spot to hand deliver Haitian Coca Cola from his 5 gallon bucket. Dr. Ben will probably have a soccer game or politics on his radio. Fedeline will be by soon to have a laugh with and exchange stories. She will be, hands down, the best-dressed staff member of the week. Jude or Julmis, my trustworthy interpreters, will tell me what is going on with the patient's health and we will make a treatment plan. We will then ask Henrio to 'Swivan' (Creole for 'next patient'), because there are always many people patiently waiting for their turn with a provider. We will likely send the patient next to Alin to get set up with glasses from Respectacle, or Nola with the CHWs to talk about Helping Babies Breathe. Dange and his deep laugh will be by to make sure everything is operating smoothly. Lastly, patients will see Abelard at TEBOW, and then make a trip to see Peterson in the pharmacy to get their meds.
What impact does CHI have on your life?
CHI has impacted most areas of my life. It has shown me many lessons. I have gained a perspective that I would not have had without working with CHI. It has made me see medicine in a completely different way, seeing how care can be delivered without tons of labs, imaging, consultants, or hospitals. It has made me see people in another way. I see how people get by without the luxuries we have as Americans. I see the patience, respect, and wisdom of Haitians. I see pride and joy in our patients. I also see their heartache and tiredness from years of life in the hot sun and working in the fields. It is an honor to provide healthcare to these patients, and to try and make their life a little better. I have made many good friends - both blans and Haitians over the years through CHI, and shared many a laugh and some tears with the CHI crew.
Why do you choose to donate with your time or money?
Quite simply, I find donating time and money to CHI worthwhile and worth doing. I see where the donated funds go and I see the direct effects of my work there. Haiti trips help me reset my priorities in life.