“I like being able to ask why things work and why they’re broken, and then being able to fix them.”
You wouldn’t know it from visiting the Team Broken Earth website, but Dr. Andrew Furey is the reason the special non-profit initiative exists.
An orthopedic trauma surgeon, Andrew felt compelled to offer his services when the 7 Mw earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people, and displacing and severely injuring many more. In June of that year, he formed a team of three—himself, wife and pediatric emergency room doctor Allison Furey, and orthopedic surgeon Will Moores—and together they travelled from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where they spent a week volunteering to help fix some of what was broken.
After returning from that first mission, Andrew founded Team Broken Earth, a volunteer task force of Canadian physicians, nurses and physiotherapists committed to providing aid in Haiti. Since its inception, the organization has carried out nine missions to Port-au-Prince, with the next one scheduled for October 2013. Broken Earth has expanded to include teams from Calgary, Alberta and Halifax, Nova Scotia. It has also grown in scope, looking beyond the initial devastation of the 2010 earthquake to provide ongoing medical care and help make the region more self-sufficient in the long-term. The organization offers medical training to Haitian doctors, nurses and allied healthcare workers, and is working to develop sustainable community programs in Haiti.
As president of Team Broken Earth, Andrew has gone on every one of their missions, leading the medical care of more than 500 patients per week. He’s also responsible for setting the direction of Broken Earth and negotiating partnerships and sponsorships. But in spite of his pivotal role in the organization, he doesn’t take credit on its website.
His reason is simple: “Because it’s a team effort.”
He’s right, of course. Broken Earth is a joint venture with Project Medishare, an initiative of the University of Miami’s medical school. The non-profit receives support from a number of sponsors, including Andrew’s alma mater, Memorial University. And each member of Broken Earth’s medical teams raises their own funds to travel to Haiti for the weeklong missions.
But every team needs a leader. And in this case, it’s Andrew who leads Team Broken Earth to solid ground.
Fixing what’s broken
Born and raised in St. John’s (a.k.a. The Rock), Andrew was given a great foundation from the start. His family, whom he describes as “very loving,” included two younger sisters and a younger brother, a nurse and music teacher mother, and a father whose life story “was always an inspiration for me,” says Andrew.
After growing up in Newfoundland’s Mount Cashel Orphanage, George Furey put himself through school at Memorial University, and then went on to become a teacher, a principal, a lawyer and, currently, a Canadian Senator. “He’s led by great example, as has my mom [Karen Furey], obviously; you can’t do any of that by yourself,” says Andrew. “They’ve created a great learning and family environment. I feel spoiled by the environment they created.”
“Spoiled” by love and a thirst for knowledge, he followed in his father’s footsteps, enrolling at Memorial University after graduating from Gonzaga High School in 1993. He completed a BSc (1997), an MD (2001) and a Masters of Clinical Epidemiology and Orthopedic Surgical Residency (2004). As he tells it, his interest in medicine stemmed from an equal passion for the science side and the clinical side of the field.
“I like being able to ask why things work and why they’re broken, and then being able to fix them,” he says. “But I think ultimately it was the idea of making a connection with people, the human element of medicine and being able to care for people, that led me to choose my profession.”
Andrew completed his residency in 2006, and then accepted a one-year fellowship in Orthopedic Trauma at the University of Maryland’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. After that, “I returned to The Rock and have been happy here ever since,” he says.
Life on The Rock
Today, he lives in St. Philips, Newfoundland, where he continues to follow his father’s lead. Andrew and his “superstar wife,” Allison, are “spoiling” their three children, Maggie (6), Rachael (4) and Mark (2), with a wonderful example of generosity, initiative and caring.
In addition to his volunteer efforts with Team Broken Earth, Andrew keeps a number of plates in the air—each of them very full. He’s actively involved in local community initiatives, including the Torbay Tri for Health, which he launched in 2010 with his brother-in-law, Mike Rudofsky, in an effort to raise funds and awareness for mental health.
On the professional side, Andrew works as Assistant Professor of Surgery at Memorial University, and is President of the Newfoundland Orthopedic Association and Director of Research for the Orthopedic Resident Training Program at the Memorial Medical School. He also sits on multiple national committees for the Canadian Orthopaedic Association (COA).
Such outstanding contributions to the local, medical and international communities haven’t gone unnoticed. His recent accolades include the 2011 Rotary Emerging Professionals Award, the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and the 2012 Memorial University Alumnus of the Year award. Still, from talking to him, it’s obvious that his greatest reward is being to draw on his expertise as an orthopedic surgeon to help heal those in need.
Steps in the right direction
As Andrew tells it, he was drawn to orthopedics because it offered a definitive path to recovery.
“There’s a very clear approach,” he says. “There’s not a whole lot of academic debate for the sake of academic debate. Everyone should be on the same page: ‘This is what the problem is, this is how we’re going to try to fix it, this is our plan and this is how the patient is going to recover.’ It’s a very step-wise approach.”
That line of thinking is what brought him to Haiti in 2010. Watching real-time footage of the earthquake, he felt compelled to help.
“It really hit home, to see the frank devastation,” he says. “As I thought about it, in terms of patient care in trauma, I knew that people were going to generally die fairly quickly from massive injuries or general surgery injuries… but they wouldn’t necessarily die of their orthopedic injuries—the broken leg, the broken arm. But I knew they wouldn’t get the right treatment for those injuries.”
He contacted his colleagues in Baltimore, who were already offering medical aid in Port-au-Prince, and put together a team to join their relief efforts. That initial weeklong relief mission went well. But unfortunately, the Baltimore group’s makeshift medical centre, comprised largely of tents erected around fallen power lines, was eventually deemed unsafe and shut down. So when the time came to launch Team Broken Earth, he looked elsewhere for a partner.
That search led him to the University of Miami’s Project Medishare. “They’d built a hospital in Haiti that relies on international teams of physicians to help staff and support its daily operation,” says Andrew. It was a perfect fit. He joined forces with Medishare, creating a vital partnership that provides the fertile ground necessary for Team Broken Earth to thrive.
To the ends of the earth
The notion of partnership, of forming a true team, is essential to Broken Earth’s success. As Andrew says, every member of the volunteer task force is “pushed to their professional and personal limits” on each mission. But they never reach the breaking point, and the reason is this: the team serves as a titanium crutch, there to prop everyone up when the time comes.
“You take this group of individuals who may or may not know each other, and you bring them down to this area that is extremely poor and is still suffering from the devastation of the earthquake,” he says. “You ask them to treat injuries they’re not used to treating, and it’s 36 degrees Celsius and the power comes on and off. They’re all working outside their element, and everyone can be fairly stressed. But what’s nice about Broken Earth is that the team rallies around each other. No one appears stressed because everyone is there to support of each other; everyone leans on each other for professional and emotional support.”
Still, that kind of support doesn’t entirely ease the pain of losing a patient. He recalls one devastating example (and there are many; you can read more in The Globe and Mail article on Dr. Spencer McLean) from an early Broken Earth mission. It involved an 18-year-old woman who had been shot in the abdomen by a stray bullet.
“We took her to surgery, but there was no blood available,” says Andrew. “If we had been in North America, there would have been blood products immediately available, and we would have had some time to fix the vascular injury that she sustained. But she bled out right in front of us, to the point where her arteries were still pumping, because she was so young and vital, but she had no blood left, so she was only bleeding saline by the end of it.”
Those who can, teach
Working in those conditions serves as a constant reminder to Andrew of how lucky he is—how lucky we all are—to live in Canada.
“You go down and you see the despair, you see the troubles that they face, and you know that you’re lucky enough to only be there for a week,” he says. “But at the same time, you’re completely divided. You wish that every single person you saw had the same access to the healthcare and health facilities that we do.”
Since his first trip to Haiti in 2010, he has seen a lot of improvements in the Caribbean country. But he’s keenly aware that they’re still in need of support. For that reason, Team Broken Earth has gone beyond its initial mandate to provide medical aid, and now helps to train Haitian healthcare workers and establish sustainable community programs so the nation can become more self-sufficient.
For his part, Andrew serves as Director of Orthopedic Surgery at Medishare’s Bernard Mevs Hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince and sits on the Board of Directors for Project Medishare-Haiti. He’s also involved with the Port-au-Prince education group that his Baltimore colleagues launched in 2011.
Looking ahead, Team Broken Earth is working with the Haitian Orthopedic Society to try to bring Haitian healthcare workers to Memorial University for medical training. Andrew foresees a number of logistical obstacles to this next step. But he also firmly believes that it’s worth persevering, and that they’ll eventually make their vision a reality. After all, his work in Port-au-Prince is proof that determination and dedication pay off, and that the power of the human spirit is limitless.
A healing force
“Out of the destruction in Haiti, there are great examples of hope and triumph that are pretty special,” says Andrew. “We see it in patient care, and we see it in the stories that we hear and the stories that we’re lucky to be a part of. We’ve also been lucky enough to visit a few orphanages and see that there are remarkable stories of remarkable people doing remarkable humanitarian work in this really troubled country.”
He acknowledges that it can be easy to lose sight of all the good that’s being done, particularly now that the media has shifted its focus off Haiti. And, he says, “it doesn’t help to have certain quasi-political figures question where the money is being spent and saying that we shouldn’t spend money there. Really, the solution isn’t to stop sending funds to Haiti. If we aren’t getting enough bang for our buck, the solution would be to say, ‘Okay, let’s figure out how we can get a bang for our buck,’ rather than not offering the buck.”
You wouldn’t think there would be any backlash to a medical mission like Broken Earth—one built on caring, generosity and a desire to give back. But Andrew has encountered a remarkable number of people looking to pick holes in their efforts.
“It’s incredible, the naysayers that come out of the woodwork,” he says. “They argue that we’re only providing help to people who are injured during the week we’re there for each mission. That’s totally true. But we’re not pretending to be anything more than that. We’re working with what we have. Down the road, I’d like to see myself in a position to be able to effect a little bit more change on a larger scale, in Haiti specifically and in the delivery of healthcare in general. But right now, this is what we’re able to do.”
Fortunately, the vast majority of people see this as the wonderful offering that it is. As Andrew says, “For every naysayer out there, there are 15 people who have something positive to say, and who would never dream that anyone could have anything negative to say about what we’re doing.”
What they’re doing—what Andrew is doing—is working together to give back to others in need and make a positive difference in the world. To help our broken earth begin to heal.
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To get involved or donate to Team Broken Earth, visit brokenearth.ca. For their latest news, follow @TeamBrokenEarth on Twitter or ‘Like’ the organization’s Facebook page. To reach Andrew, email [email protected].
Thank you to Team Broken Earth Calgary’s Kimberly Carcary for recommending Andrew as a Kickass Canadian.