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St. Mary's heads to Haiti

It was about four years ago that a young nurse fresh out of Concordia College made a lasting impression on the staff of St. Mary's Innovis Health (SMIH) in Detroit Lakes.

That nurse, Miquette Denie, spent a couple of years working at St. Mary's before returning to her native Haiti and establishing the philanthropic education organization known as TeacHaiti, which still has deep roots here in Detroit Lakes.

So when they learned of the catastrophic earthquake that devastated the island nation in early January, there were several people on staff at SMIH who felt motivated to help.

Shortly after the disaster occurred, one of Denie's nursing comrades at St. Mary's, Becky Bentley, received an e-mail from her friend in Haiti.

"She (Denie) asked for doctors and nurses to come and help (with the recovery)," Bentley said.

The school where Denie had worked as a nurse was no longer a school; rather, it had been re-purposed as a staging area for medical teams coming into Port au Prince to assist with the recovery.

"Miquette's job is sending out the medical teams to where they need help," Bentley explained.

Moved by Denie's plea, Bentley approached St. Mary's CEO Tom Thompson, and asked if there might be a way for them to send some help.

That request was granted. Sunday, a group of five health professionals from St. Mary's embarked on a 10-day medical assistance mission to Haiti, returning March 3.

"St. Mary's Innovis Health will be sponsoring a team of staff members, as well as Dr. Francis Cormier, to help out with the health needs of the recovery effort in Miquette's community," Thompson said in a press release.

"Our team will include Michelle Norby (lab technician), Karin Halverson (surgery), Alyson Jensen (surgery), Stacey Larson (therapy) and Becky Bentley."

Thompson also warmly praised Denie's efforts in Haiti's recovery, lauding her as "a personal example of selflessness that is remarkable."

Once Bentley had received the go-ahead to assemble a team, she called TeacHaiti board member Jeff Norby of Detroit Lakes, and asked if he would be able to help her.

Though he wouldn't be able to accompany her on the mission, Norby did provide considerable assistance in organizing the trip.

"He (Norby) has been an integral part of putting this together," Bentley said.

When orthopedic surgeon Dr. Francis Cormier said that he would be able to make the trip, Bentley said, "I built a team around him, so we'd be able to support him while he was working."

But that doesn't mean all four members of the support team will be by Cormier's side throughout the 10 days, she added.

"Miquette makes those determinations," Bentley said, adding that Denie is the one who coordinates the supply and staffing needs for all the hospitals and other medical facilities in Haiti.

"We may go to the same place every day, or we may go to different places every day," Bentley explained. "They may split us up because they need some of us in different areas. Whatever they need, we'll do."

"I'm excited -- and nervous," said Aly Jensen.

"I'm glad I can go," added Michelle Norby, who is also a TeacHaiti board member.

"It's a great opportunity," added Karen Halverson. "Becky and I have been there before ... it's kind of dreadful to think about seeing all the places we've been (before the earthquake)."

"We're going because of Miquette -- if she hadn't sent that e-mail, it wouldn't have happened," said Bentley.

The support the team has received from other area individuals and organizations has also been invaluable, she added. Besides Jeff Norby's assistance in coordinating the trip, SMIH staff members have donated both money and paid time off (PTO), which will be matched by Essentia Health.

The Minneapolis-based Haiti Mission Project "is also a big supporter," said Jeff Norby. "They have a very active and ongoing presence in Haiti."

Lakeshirts of Detroit Lakes also helped by imprinting a TeacHaiti logo onto the back of some existing SMIH t-shirts, for use by the medical team during their trip.

"People have been very generous," Bentley said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454