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Life lessons from a broken Haiti

On Jan. 12, 2010, a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, and the country again was thrust onto the world stage with 24-7 news coverage. We were stunned by horrific scenes of death and destruction from a place that is driven in and out of our consciousness by natural and manmade disasters — famine, tropical storm, aid scandals, coup d’état or epidemic.

Dr. Clinton Longenecker and his son, Clint Jr., took a break from helping to build an orphanage in Port-de-Paix to pose for a photo with some orphaned Haitian children.

Dr. Clinton Longenecker and his son, Clint Jr., took a break from helping to build an orphanage in Port-de-Paix to pose for a photo with some orphaned Haitian children.

For my family and me, the earthquake became a very emotional experience as we have deep, personal ties to this country that is the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. More than 1.2 million homeless and 230,000 dead are numbers too staggering to comprehend.

I began my Haiti “experience” as a UT MBA student in 1978 researching baseball manufacturing in the country for an international business course. I knew nothing about the country but was intrigued because of its people and rich history, being the first black republic gaining independence in 1804 and the only nation to be born out of a slave rebellion. I took my first trip to Haiti in 1983, leading a team of 35 high school and college students to construct a school in a remote village. After that summer, I left with a new appreciation for life and Haitian people. My wife, Cindy, worked in Port-au-Prince for three years in a mission school touching countless lives, and we got engaged in the capital in 1987. (People frequently ask how I was able to get Cindy to marry me; to my advantage, she had malaria, a 103-degree temperature, an infection in her eye, and the city was under martial law, which made me look pretty good on the day she said “Yes.”)

My 22-year-old son, Clint, has been to the country seven times working at an orphanage, and my daughter, Shannon, a UT junior pre-vet major, made two trips this past summer to work with a medical team and tropical veterinarian. As a family, we have learned much from Haiti, which means “the land of high mountains.” I share this background and the fact that for the past 27 years I have been making regular trips to Haiti building, working at orphanages, and conducting training programs to say that each time I leave Haiti, I do so reminded of critical life lessons worth remembering.

Here are a few learned from our time there and working side by side with Haitians: Every meal is a blessing; never take electricity for granted; life without clean water is impossible; something as simple as aspirin can save a person’s life; happiness is not based on what a person owns; doctors and dentists perform miracles every day; without soap, disease is not far away; complaining is almost always a waste of energy; necessity is the mother of invention; and contentment is a choice. Talk to anyone who has been to Haiti or any Third World country and they can share the same. When surrounded by comforts, it is a constant effort for me to integrate these lessons in my everyday life lest I forget how blessed I am.

Last summer I returned to post-earthquake Haiti and was blown away by the scope of destruction and suffering that was still playing six months later. As I traveled Port-au-Prince, I realized that Internet pictures and TV couldn’t capture the new reality of Haiti, which always has been an extremely difficult place to live, work and travel. The presidential palace and government buildings were knocked down, and the churches were in rubble. Roads, telephone poles, electricity and water systems were still in disrepair. Tent cities and temporary markets were everywhere. Schools and shops had sprung up out of the debris, and Haitians were going about their daily lives sidestepping rubble at every turn.

I was reminded of a new set of life lessons:

• Countries really can work together regardless of politics and culture when they choose to; I counted aid workers from more than 20 of the 70 different countries that stepped in to help Haiti get through the crisis;

• Individuals can and do make a difference using their talents and treasure to help others less fortunate as I met people from every walk of life pitching in;

• The Haitian people are among the strongest, most patient and resilient people in the world as they are coping with a situation that would cause many to give up;

• Leaders must lead in a time of crisis; meeting with government officials, I observed a lack of planning, organizing and action to move the country forward; and

• It is one thing to hear of more than a million homeless and another to see a mother and her four children huddled together in a tent in the rain over a charcoal fire knowing that there is nowhere to go and tomorrow will bring the same.

As we begin 2011, let us not forget the people of Haiti who survived the quake only to be hit with storms, flooding, a cholera outbreak and an uncertain future. While Haiti may not be in the headlines, the people still need our help, and we can learn great lessons from them as we take on the challenges that come with the new year.

Longenecker is the Stranahan Professor of Leadership and Organizational Excellence in the College of Business and Innovation.

Warmth in the Cold War: Letters of condolence on the death of President Kennedy

In her recent book Letters to Jackie: Condolences From a Grieving Nation (New York: Ecco, 2010), historian Ellen Fitzpatrick published 250 letters from ordinary Americans written to Jackie Kennedy following the assassination in November 1963 of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The letters in Fitzpatrick’s book were culled from thousands she discovered at the Kennedy Library in Boston. The letters detail in deeply personal ways how Americans from all walks of life were touched by the death of their young president.

This photo of Foy Kohler, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and President John Kennedy in the Oval Office is part of Kohler’s papers housed in the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections.

This photo of Foy Kohler, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, and President John Kennedy in the Oval Office is part of Kohler’s papers housed in the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections.

Perhaps a more astonishing story of the impact of tragedy can be found in the papers of Foy D. Kohler that are housed in UT’s Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections. The collection contains more than 100 similar letters written in 1963 to Kohler, who was then serving as the United States ambassador to the Soviet Union. These letters were not from Americans, however, but rather were written by citizens of the Soviet Union.

Coming at the height of the Cold War, just a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis when the United States and Russia had aimed nuclear warheads at each other, these letters show a surprisingly different side of the Soviet Union. Rather than a Cold War, they reveal the great warmth of the Soviet people and the profound sense of tragedy they felt on the death of America’s president.

“Allow me to present my deep and sincere condolences and sympathy in connection with the death of the president of your country, John F. Kennedy. I am only an ordinary Russian citizen, but nevertheless I presume to convey to you my sympathy, since I am so deeply shaken by the tragic death of your distinguished compatriot, a good, wise and great man,” stated A. I. Odintzov, in a letter penned Nov. 23. The letter humbly ends, “Excuse me for bothering you.”

Leonid Victorov, who identified himself only as “a reader,” wrote, “In a period which was critical for the world, this man overcame the most difficult obstacles and took the road toward improving relations between our great peoples. Let us remember the words of another distinguished American, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: ‘Hope springs eternal’ and lead ourselves to this great truth.”

The letters are from Russians of all walks of life, from a class at a middle school to students at Moscow University. One contained a poem:

As a soldier at the battle post
In the prime of his life and creative deeds
He was slain by a villain.

Deserted is Kennedy’s family,
Deserted are the people,
Deserted is all the earth.
Grief and pain are left.

The Frenchman is grieving.
Italy goes into mourning.
Chairman Khrushchev stood silent minutes in Sadovaya
In memory of him —
He stood for us, for Russians.

The poem was simply signed “Iazarev.”

The Canaday Center for Special Collections holds letters received by Foy Kohler following the assassination of President Kennedy.

The Canaday Center for Special Collections holds letters received by Foy Kohler following the assassination of President Kennedy.

Most of the letters convey a common theme. In addition to the senselessness of the tragedy, there is the fear that any hope for world peace was lost. Many of the Soviet citizens appear to have seen President Kennedy as a voice of reason in an unreasonable world. “For us, ordinary peoples of the world, he was the defender and the protector of the peace, the defender and protector of our rights, of our liberties, of our dignities. With these human values his name will always be linked,” wrote M. Mandossian. “We and the Soviet people knew Mr. Kennedy as a very good realist. He saw that the people of the whole world want only the peace,” wrote Igor Yova. Tamara and Volodya Kulishov noted President Kennedy was “known as a great statesman, as a prominent fighter against racism, who has done so much for peace, to promote further cooperation between our two countries. We came to respect him.”

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s signature is on the top line of this condolence book that is among the papers of Foy Kohler housed in the Canaday Center for Special Collections.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s signature is on the top line of this condolence book that is among the papers of Foy Kohler housed in the Canaday Center for Special Collections.

One letter even included a photograph of the writer’s two young children.

In addition to providing insight into the thoughts of everyday Russians, Kohler’s papers also reveal the more formal side of the ambassador’s duties following such a shattering event. Included is a copy of the letter sent by Kohler to his counterpart, Andrei Gromyko, minister of foreign affairs, on Nov. 23 that officially conveyed the news of Kennedy’s death and the succession of Lyndon Johnson to power. The letter notes that beginning that day, the American embassy would recognize 30 days of mourning, and that a book of condolences would be available to leave messages of sympathy. Kohler’s papers include that book. It contains the signatures of most of the ambassadors from countries with embassies in Moscow. It also contains the signature of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and several of his close associates.

Ambassador Kohler was clearly moved by the outpouring of sympathy he received on the death of President Kennedy. The files also contain a letter he sent to the editor of Izvestiya, a Moscow newspaper, asking that the paper publish “a notice of our deep appreciation for the sharing of our grief by so many Soviet citizens.”

Foy Kohler remained in Moscow as ambassador through 1966. In his later career, he served as deputy undersecretary of state for political affairs, as a consultant to the Department of State, and a professor at the Center for Advanced International Studies at the University of Miami in Florida. His last position was a senior associate at the Advanced International Studies Institute in Washington, D.C.

Kohler died in Jupiter, Fla., in 1990. Because of the fondness he felt for The University of Toledo, which he attended from 1924 to 1927, he donated his papers to the Canaday Center. The collection of more than 90 linear feet of historical material documents all aspects of Kohler’s career, including that fateful day in November 1963.

Floyd is director of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections.

Public thank-you for exceptional medical care

I was a patient at UT Medical Center 48 days. I had one surgery in July and two in August and ended up in the Intensive Care Unit twice. I wasn’t expected to live after the first surgery. But I am writing today thanks to the doctors and staff there.

As a licensed nurse in six states, I’ve worked in a lot of hospitals. Doctors suggested I go to the Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic for care. I’ve worked at the Cleveland Clinic and knew they were short on nurses, and the Mayo Clinic was too far from my family and home in Indianapolis. Since nobody would take my case in Indiana, I contacted my former physician, Dr. John Geisler, who transferred to UT Medical Center for research. He still had me down as his patient, so I decided to come to Toledo for care.

And it was care I received at UT Medical Center. To be honest, at first, I was reluctant to come to a research hospital as I’ve seen what goes on behind the scenes at some institutions. But so many people there were phenomenal. I’ve sent cards and taken a few gifts to show my appreciation as I continue to visit Toledo for treatment, but I wanted to take a few minutes to recognize some people who made a difference in my life.

When I was at UT Medical Center, I remember waking up in the ICU and one of the doctors walked in and I grabbed his hand and said, “Please don’t let me die,” and fell back asleep. I had been on a ventilator and was swelling with fluid. I woke up hours later and that doctor was still there. I drifted off again and awoke to pounding; it was the doctor trying to get me to breathe.

I asked everyone who this doctor was; people thought he was a figment of my imagination. But Dr. Geisler told me it was Dr. Thomas Papadimos. That division chief stayed with me around the clock. I gave him a gift during a recent hospital visit and told him, “God does use some of his angels to get to some of his children.” That’s all I could say to him.

Dr. Geisler performed my first two surgeries there, and his wife, Dr. Kelly Manahan, performed the last surgery. It was Dr. Manahan who told me on Aug. 24 that if I didn’t have surgery within one hour, I would die. She and Dr. Geisler performed so diligently, removing the diseased masses piece by piece from my pancreas and colon. What’s more, when Dr. Geisler wasn’t at the hospital, he gave his personal pager number to my husband, Gene.

That same concern and care was given by several nurses as well. I remember Roxanne Grinonneau, Jen Schell and Allison Batey; they were just awesome. It still makes me cry when I think about how wonderful they were to me, and I wasn’t the best patient. I was incontinent and needed tending to every 15 minutes or the bedding needed to be changed. It was Roxanne who requested me as a patient for continuity of care because I was on my deathbed. I don’t know how many times I hit the call light or was incontinent, but those nurses’ attitudes never changed; they were friendly and polite. They lifted my spirits.

As a nurse, I know recognition doesn’t always come our way. I want Pam Major, 4AB Med/Surgery GI nursing supervisor, to know I would love to work with nurses like she has on the fourth floor. I’d want to go to work every day; I’d be proud to work with a staff like that.

I also want to recognize Lakisha Carter, patient care aide on 4AB. She looks like a Barbie doll and works like an angel. When I didn’t want a bath, she told me how it would make me feel better, gave me a massage, and braided my hair, which had started to fall out. She even tried to feed me when I didn’t want to eat.

Before that surgery on Aug. 24, Lakisha and the nurses knew I was going septic and my prognosis wasn’t good, but none of them wanted to tell me. They all kept smiles on their faces whenever they walked into my room. They really care for their patients, just like Dr. Geisler, Dr. Manahan and Dr. Papadimos.

I still have a long way to go and will continue to travel back to UT Medical Center for treatment. I’m not guaranteed tomorrow, but I want to make sure the people who took care of me are recognized. If I had the power to put my story on CNN, I would.

When I get better and return to being a traveling nurse, I’ll be telling everyone about UT Medical Center. I would not hesitate to send anyone there for care.

Returning to Liberia: Former Peace Corps volunteer assists with educational efforts

Janice Flahiff and Victor Taylor, an administrator at Ganta Nursing School, check out Web sites.

Janice Flahiff and Victor Taylor, an administrator at Ganta Nursing School, checked out Web sites.

Thirty years ago, I left Liberia after two satisfying years of Peace Corps service teaching math and science in a rural junior high school. This past May, I returned for three and a half weeks to again share knowledge as well as learn more about Liberia firsthand. This time I traveled with a group sponsored by the Friends of Liberia, a nonprofit organization that is largely made of “returned” (this word is used instead of former!) Peace Corps volunteers from across the United States. Our group of 27 was divided into three teams: health/medical, teacher training and environmental. I was the sole medical librarian with nine other team members, including a physician, several nurses, mental health professionals, social workers and a laboratory technologist.

Our team worked at two different up-country mission hospitals for a week each as guest lecturers in their nursing programs as well as consultants to the faculty and staff. My goal was to teach basic computer skills and how to find free, relevant, reputable health/medical Web sites. The hospitals have Internet connections via satellite. However, electricity is only available for about nine hours each day at both hospitals. Fuel costs for the generators are high, and publicly available electricity is limited to about 10 square blocks in the capital. Before traveling to Liberia, I collected more than 100 Web sites and posted them at http://delicious.com/GantaHospital and http://delicious.com/CurranHospital. I was hoping to refine them after consulting with faculty and staff at both sites.

Janice Flahiff taught an Internet workshop for Ganta Nursing School faculty.

Janice Flahiff taught an Internet workshop for Ganta Nursing School faculty.

Ganta Hospital had two computers in a small room, which could seat about six people, and no means to present the Internet live or through screen shots in a classroom. I presented an hour-and-half lecture to a nursing class of 30 students and separately to a group of seven faculty. I focused on the rudiments of searching, Web-site evaluation and Web-based health/medical information directories. Most of the students seemed alert and interested, and took notes.

At a second session, a nursing instructor approached me at the start of class and tactfully proposed that I use his laptop so that students in groups of five could view the basics of Internet searching. I showed them the “delicious” sites I set up and a Web directory, stressing Web evaluation, links and Web-page navigation. Many were able to apply what they had learned in lecture and were extremely interested in the Web-page content, especially disease information. They read as much as they could before their 10 minutes were up. The Internet connection was a bit slow, but workable.

Curran Hospital had a library about the size of a reading room, with seven PCs. The Internet connection at this site was very similar to what I experience at work. I taught content similar to that at Ganta Hospital to two interested faculty members: a Peace Corps education volunteer on site who showed interest, and the hospital’s librarian, who had recently completed a three-month library certificate in the country. One faculty member was having challenges with using a mouse, while the other faculty member seemed adept at navigating within a Web page. I was seated between them and did the best I could striking a balance between their learning levels. The Peace Corps volunteer asked for another meeting. I was happy to oblige, and we went over questions she had, basically about good Web sites for specific classes the students were taking.

The level and length of training at both sites were limited, probably because of a number of factors. Teaching schedules by members of our group were not made until on site and were entirely at the discretion of the hospital administration. Faculty, staff and students spend long days at the hospitals, so Internet sessions were worked in not only with their existing schedules, but classes conducted by other members of the health/medical team.

While the contact time for formal and informal teaching probably could not have been made longer, a few things probably would have made the experience more relevant for the staff and students. I could have made e-mail contact with hospital administrators ahead of time and gauged expectations and Internet knowledge and experience among the students and staff. Most staff and many students seemed to own cell phones. Not only could I have “advertised” office hours, I could have made myself available for consultations by providing my cell phone number. That being said, those who were able to attend the presentations were given basic information on the Internet and hopefully a good starting point for relevant Web sites.

Flahiff is a reference librarian in Mulford Library.

Inauguration as history — both personal and collective

So I find myself sitting on the National Mall at 10:15 a.m. on Jan. 20, with a page from the Washington Post serving as a blanket, looking out at a sea of thousands of heavy boots that undoubtedly contained multiple pairs of socks and a few foot warmers. I had been standing since before 6 a.m. and needed to give my knees a break. I was cold, tired and feeling a little claustrophobic in a crowd that would eventually number two million. We were about a half mile from the Capitol, dependent on a Jumbotron to glimpse the day’s events. At that moment I asked myself, “What am I doing here?” There were still two hours before the new president would take the oath of office, and I was in no mood to wait.

UT professors Barbara Floyd and Dr. Andy Jorgensen posed for a photo during the inauguration.

UT professors Barbara Floyd and Dr. Andy Jorgensen posed for a photo during the inauguration.

But wait I did, and as tears welled up in my eyes when Barack Obama took the oath of office at 12:04 p.m., I realized why I was there — to witness history. And all of my doubts melted away and all the inconveniences became inconsequential.

There were so many images of that day and the two previous days that I will never forget. On Sunday, the “We Are One” concert produced many memorable moments, like a crowd of 500,000 singing “This Land Is Your Land,” led by folk legend Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen, and Garth Brooks leading a chorus of “American Pie.” People standing in line for up to an hour to have their pictures taken with the now-famous stylized portrait of Obama by Shepard Fairey hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. Whole families getting their photos taken in front of the Canadian Embassy’s banner that proclaimed “Canada Welcomes President Obama.” Seeing the not-yet-president’s motorcade speed down the street. People eagerly buying any souvenir with Obama’s image (or, even more desirous, his family’s image.) Crowds so large that it took 30 minutes to get out of the Metro station. Waiting 20 minutes to cross the street as tens of thousands tried to get to their destinations. Arriving on the mall at daybreak Tuesday morning as a beautiful pink sunrise served as a backdrop to the Capitol, which was adorned with flags and seemed to glow from within. The image seemed to symbolize a new day for America.

This shot of the Capitol at dawn on inauguration day was taken by Bill Little, Barbara Floyd's husband.

This shot of the Capitol at dawn on inauguration day was taken by Bill Little, Barbara Floyd's husband.

But what I will remember most is the joyousness of the people who gathered Tuesday. Despite the difficulties and indignities that come with packing two million people together in the cold and making them stand for seven or eight hours, no one complained. Everyone shared stories about why they were there, how long they had traveled to get there, and what it meant to them to be there. It was like a family reunion, but with people you did not know. Much has been reported about the diversity of the crowd, and I can attest that all those reports are true. There were people of every color, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic status and nationality.

And at 12:04, when the president placed his hand upon Lincoln’s bible, you could have heard a pin drop (if that were possible in a grassy lawn.) Two million people stood silent, with the exception of an occasional sniffle that signaled the emotion of the moment. As President Obama addressed the nation, there were many cheers that punctuated his speech, and the sounds of millions of gloved hands clapping. The crowd hung on every word.

The event made me think a lot about my late father. My interest in politics developed at the kitchen table when my father would almost nightly rant about the latest injustice he perceived against the “workin’ man.” There was never any question about which political party we belonged to — in our house, there was only one.

But despite his strong sense of equality and justice, there was one group of people he could never bring himself to see as his equal — African Americans. Growing up in several small Ohio towns, he never personally knew any such people, but he was sure they were different. And as someone who struggled to earn a living in heavy construction, he undoubtedly saw African Americans as competitors on the ladder of upward mobility. I stopped encouraging him to vote in 1968 when he cast his ballot for George Wallace. No one could ever convince him that his racist views were unfounded, and we learned the futility of challenging his racial epithets.

But this past June, as he lay gravely ill in the hospital, he told my husband in what would be his last conversation before he slipped into a coma that if Barack Obama got the nomination, he would vote for him.

As I watched President Obama take the oath of office, I was reminded that like my father, we are all shaped by our personal histories. But on a few rare occasions, our collective history as a nation can redefine that personal history. I believe my father would have been proud of his country on Tuesday.

Floyd is director of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, university archivist and professor of library administration.