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A World Beyond

Jan 12, 2017, 09:25 AM by Adele Menichella
Dr. Boyatt and patient
Picture a Caribbean vacation for a two-physician family and you might imagine scuba diving, rounds of golf and sand castles on the beach. You would be way off the mark, at least for the Meyers-Boyatt family, whose Caribbean “vacation” consisted of his-and-hers medical missions to one of the most impoverished regions in Haiti.

In March 2014, ophthalmologist Dr. Toni Meyers traveled to Thomazeau, 25 miles from Port-Au-Prince and the permanent base of LiveBeyond, a community development organization. Founded by David Vanderpool, a vascular surgeon and emergency response specialist in the aftermath of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, LiveBeyond provides medical care, food, education, and spiritual guidance to the impoverished people of Thomazeau. When a friend of Toni’s in Nashville shared her desire to go to Haiti to donate over 100 dresses to the orphans, Toni immediately decided to offer her support. “I saw an opportunity to practice medicine in a third world country with an organization that seemed to be making a meaningful impact in one of the most impoverished areas of the world,” she said.

Dr. Meyers and Sophie
While husband Dr. Jason Boyatt, Sansum cardiologist and Chief of Staff at Cottage Hospital, looked after the couple’s two young sons at home in Santa Barbara, Toni served for six days in an open-air medical clinic, part of a team of four doctors and four nurses that saw as many as 400 patients a day.

“Their needs are dire,” Toni said of the families she treated. “Many have parasites and skin diseases, and other symptoms of malnutrition.” She focused on each patient’s immediate needs and gave out bags of rice and beans, along with salves and medications.

A mere 2-hour flight from Miami but a world apart economically, Haiti is second in population among Caribbean nations to Cuba. Its broken infrastructure means that most Haitians cannot count on access to running water or electricity. Many families dwell along trash-strewn dirt roads, in tents that were set up as temporary structures after their homes were destroyed in the earthquake. One in five babies will not make it to age five. Of those children who do survive, 60% will abandon school before sixth grade.

“It’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing enough,” said Toni, “but the clinic’s ongoing presence in Thomazeau means that local Haitians will have an opportunity to receive basic health care for the first time in this region.”

In August, Jason followed his wife’s mission with his own. An experienced international volunteer, Jason has previously served on medical missions in Belize and Kenya, and chose LiveBeyond because of its commitment “to making permanent improvements. For example, they didn’t merely treat cholera, which was epidemic in Haiti after the earthquake; they also built wells and effectively eradicated the disease of cholera in Thomazeau.” LiveBeyond is also training villagers in sustainable agriculture, in an effort to end malnutrition and bolster the local economy.
Haiti map
Jason attended to a multitude of patients with infectious diseases, sexually transmitted infections, fevers and malnutrition. He said, “When you see scores of starving families including infants and children, it gets overwhelming to think of Haiti’s problem as a whole. You have to keep focused on that one person in front of you, and do what you can to help her in the moment.”

Each afternoon during their visits Jason and Toni accompanied Laurie Vanderpool, Dr. Vanderpool’s wife, who is revered by locals for her practicality and compassion, on home visits. Toni said, “Villagers would run to see Mama Laurie and meet the volunteers.” Most home visits, which combined medical and nutritional needs and socializing with patients’ family members and neighbors — were made to those who were too sick or disabled to attempt the trek to the clinic. “Some were outcasts,” said Toni, “people who were mentally and physically disabled, and were living among pigs and rodents.”

LiveBeyond’s work is inclusive as it is transformative, and both Meyers and Boyatt returned stateside inspired to join medical missions again in 2015. “Giving time, attention and care is healing for everyone,” said Jason. Toni added, “It puts our everyday luxuries in perspective. I want my kids to know that we can live simply and help others.” For doctors Toni Meyers and Jason Boyatt, whether at work or on vacation, choosing to serve others can be the most fulfilling journey of all.