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Elvi Abroad

Krewe of Rolling Elvi Members Bring Medical Care - and Mardi Gras - to Haiti

Dr. MarkAlain Dery’s commitment to upholding the Hippocratic Oath ranks just above his commitment to the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi. Back in March, while most folks in New Orleans were recovering from Mardi Gras and looking forward to Jazz Fest, Dery, an Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Tulane’s School of Medicine, was volunteering at Sante Total, a clinic in Jacsonville, Haiti.


Dery accompanied a group of Tulane medical students to Sante Total, and as a member of the Rolling Elvi, he brought along a few mementos of Mardi Gras.


Sante Total, which means “total health” in Haitian Creole, was founded by Tulane MD/PhD student Alison Smith, who has organized medical mission trips every three months to Jacsonville, Haiti, since 2009. The mission of Sante Total is to provide affordable healthcare for those who seek it, a mission even more crucial after the 2010 earthquake affected much of the county’s infrastructure. Dery and Smith’s most recent trip in March, and the next group of volunteers leaves for Haiti at the end of June.


Dery made his first trip to Haiti just days after the 2010 earthquake, spending two weeks triaging medical emergencies at a UN hospital. As a French-speaker, an infectious disease doctor, and a physician trained in emergency medicine, his skill set was ideal for disaster relief in Haiti, but nothing could really prepare him for the experience.


“As you can imagine,” Dery told NoDef, “it was very traumatic.”


The physical and emotional toll was immense. In addition to the heart-wrenching plight of people in need, the lack of sleep, food, and basic sanitation made conditions tough. Returning to New Orleans after two weeks, Dery viewed it as the “worst experience of my life.”


“I was a hot mess,” he said. “I came back and Mardi Gras was happening, and the Super Bowl, and that was an amazing turnaround of emotional events. My friends kind of took care of me. The Elvi really came to my rescue.”




Fast forward to 2012, and Smith was urging Dery to return to Haiti, this time as a doctor in charge of medical volunteers on a trip to Sante Total. At first, says Dery, “I absolutely refused to go.” But then he changed his perspective.


“It was really my girlfriend who kind of put it to me in a way that made sense. She was like ‘Go to Haiti, and get new Haiti memories,’” said Dery.  “And that’s precisely what I did.”


At the last minute, Dery decided to pack a stash of Rolling Elvi throws that were left over from Mardi Gras. He had temporary tattoos, frisbees, rings with blinking lights, and assorted other swag. He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, but in the end, he says “that was best decision I ever made.”


The kids loved it. They were lined up, he said, to get their arms tattooed with the Rolling Elvi logo. In a town where toy cars are made from discarded water bottles and soccer balls are made from inflated condoms wrapped in tape and string, the frisbees were also a big hit. Best of all, though, were the flashing rings.


“There was really no power there; there’s no electricity,” said Dery. “At night I would walk around, and kids would be waving the rings and giggling.”


Photographer Evan Sanders joined the trip and, like Dery, it was his first time back since the days immediately following the earthquake.


“MarkAlain, he and I both have similar stories,” said Sanders of his experience 2010, “except he kind of went above and beyond.”


Unlike Dery, Sanders was only able to stay for a few days after the earthquake, as he quickly ran out of resources during the chaotic aftermath of the disaster. This year’s trip, however, was a different story, as Sanders was on hand to document the progress of Sante Total, which is operating out of a mission house as they continue to raise money to build a facility to house the medical clinic.


“Coming back to Haiti in March and actually taking the proper approach of coming with a group of doctors and just documenting their work, it was a humbling experience,” said Landers.


Dery agrees, and both men plan to return to Sante Total later this year.


“It was a great trip,” said Dery. “It was a special experience.”


For more information about Sante Total, including links to donate money or volunteer for upcoming trips, visit the Sante Total website.       



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