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One Year After Quake, Business Aviation Still Helping in Haiti

January 14, 2011

Reina, a 12-year-old Haitian girl with the rare Guillain-Barre syndrome, is alive today following a dramatic rescue made possible by a volunteer nurse practitioner in Haiti, a compassionate hospital in Charlotte and a U.S.-based business that offered its business airplane within hours of the call for help.

"By the time we got to Haiti, Reina was completely paralyzed from her chest down," said Alan Staats of AERObridge, the U.S. relief organization that coordinated the rescue. "She was unable to breathe on her own, and the intensive treatment to save her life is not available in Haiti."

Young Reina is now listed in guarded condition in the pediatric intensive care unit of Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, NC, which had volunteered to treat her without cost if others could arrange transportation from Haiti. Volunteer nurse practitioner Barbara McLean in Haiti had arranged for the gratis treatment after seeing the girl's condition worsening as a result of Guillain-Barre syndrome and complications of ventilator support and sepsis. "This girl isn't going to survive here in Haiti," she declared to her co-volunteers. "I'm getting her out of here, somehow!"

"Transportation is always the biggest problem in these cases," McLean said. "But I called Marianne at AERObridge on New Year's Eve at 5 PM and by New Year's morning she had a flight for me. It was a miracle!" It was a large U.S. business that donated not only its company jet but its entire crew.

"Their response was almost immediate," said Marianne Stevenson, founder of AERObridge. "And they refused any public recognition, and instead asked if they could help in any other way to alleviate the suffering in Haiti." A few phone calls later, Stevenson had arranged for thousands of pounds of medical supplies and water purification systems to help combat the cholera outbreak in Haiti. Drinking contaminated water is the principal cause of cholera, and the donations will help about 75,000 Haitians avoid the disease for a full year.

"On January 4, they brought Reina in the back of a pickup truck and placed her on a couch in the aircraft converted to a hospital bed," said Staats. "Our turnaround time was an hour and eight minutes, which in Haiti is nothing short of miraculous." Three hours later, Reina was receiving lifesaving treatment at Hemby Hospital.

Attending physician Dr. Robert Johnson said on Friday that her prognosis was good, adding that "kids usually recover from Guillain-Barre syndrome much better than adults."

"Business assets – in this case a company jet – are bought because they support the company's bottom line," said Stevenson. "But so many companies are eager to give back to the community, in this case saving a little girl's life. If you were to ask Reina, I'll bet she would agree: 'No Plane, No Gain.'"