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OnQ Special: From Pittsburgh to Haiti: Mission of Mercy

The Hôpital Albert Schweitzer opened in Haiti's Artibonite Valley in 1956, fulfilling the dreams of its founders, Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon, and cementing the relationship between Haiti and Pittsburgh.

Forty-six years later, OnQ magazine heads to Haiti to investigate the continuing relationship between the hospital and the Pittsburgh doctors who deliver equipment and know-how to this Third World country. Explore the Pittsburgh/Haiti connection with OnQ.

"It's an extraordinary story," says Michael Bartley, managing editor of OnQ and part of the Haiti crew (along with David Solomon, supervising producer; Pierina Morelli, producer/ photographer/editor; and Nathalie Berry, field producer).

Larimer Mellon left Pittsburgh as a young man to become a rancher in Arizona, eventually becoming intrigued by Albert Schweitzer due to a 1947 Life magazine story about the doctor and his hospital in West Africa. Mellon began a friendship with Schweitzer that would lead to Mellon's earning a medical degree and starting the original 100-bed facility in Haiti.

Over the years, Hôpital Albert Schweitzer has expanded to include outreach and prevention programs, as well as services to strengthen household economics in the country. And "for 50 years, Pittsburgh money has sustained this hospital," says Bartley.

Pittsburgh has remained connected to the hospital not only through local doctors (many from Allegheny General Hospital) on missions of mercy, but also through the Friends of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, a group headed by Lucy Rawson, the step-daughter-in-law of Mellon that works to sustain and raise funds for the hospital through the sale of native Haitian art.

While in Haiti, the OnQ magazine crew explored and documented the life of the Haitian people, who are suffering from rampant malnutrition, tuberculosis and AIDS as well as having a lack of food and no running water, electricity or plumbing. Two AGH doctors were in Haiti with OnQ, Dr. Steve Williams (who is there for a year) and Dr. Rick Shannon (who accompanied OnQ for the week). Shannon said that he treated more TB cases in a week than he would in a lifetime in Pittsburgh.

Bartley said he would never forget one little girl in particular. "Her name is Caronie. I will see her in my mind for the rest of my life. She wore a blue plaid dress. She's 4 years old and she weighs 7 pounds," said Bartley. "Without this hospital founded by a Pittsburgher, this little girl would have no hope of recovery. Nor would anyone else in the village."

For more information on The Hôpital Albert Schweitzer and its Pittsburgh connection, call The Friends of H.A.S. at 412-361-4884, executive director Robyn Hollingshead, or visit friendsofhas.org.

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