Detroit college students aim to help Haiti earthquake victims

In 2010, an earthquake devastated Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and more than a million people displaced from their homes.

Several relief groups went to Haiti, and among those groups, was one from Wayne State University.

"Well, the first time I went, was after the earth quake. It was just so devastating and they have access to so few resources to help rebuild their country," said Sarah Draugelis, a graduate of WSU's pre-med program and a member of the Wayne State relief group.

"Even though I have been to other poor places, I remember feeling shocked at how extreme it was. There is no place I've been, and I am not a world traveler, but I have been around at least this hemisphere, I have never been to a place that was so poor," added WSU School of Medicine student Erik Brown.

Unlike most relief groups, they went off the beaten path and traveled to a little island called La Ganove to set up their clinic. It wasn't long before the people started to arrive. 

"You wake up, you unzip your tent in the morning, and there are just hundreds of people just in line, already, before the sun is even up. Pople travel for like three to four hours to get there. It's crazy," Draugelis said.

Their group was only consisted of about 25 people, and only four of them were doctors. The rest were residents, medical students, pre-med students and other volunteers. In the one, week they were there -- they helped 1,300 patients.

"We see an extremely high volume of patients in a very short amount of time. So sometimes we are limited to just 10 minutes per patient," Draugelis said.  

One patient, however, stuck in Draugelis and Brown's minds, a pregnant woman with gestational diabetes. 

"Basically she just needed one thing," Brown recalled. "She just needed insulin and we didn't happen to have any with us."

The woman had a diabetic attack.

 "We put money together and we were going to put her on a boat to Port a Prince because we didn't think she'd make it to the local hospital because it was so far away, but we couldn't even get her on the boat," Draugelis said.

"She ended up dying on the way there," Brown finished. 

That woman's unnecessary death got the two thinking.  

 "We didn't have any way to record that experience, except in our memories," Brown said. "We have paper forms down there, but paper forms are invariably lost at the end." 

They needed a more permanent way to keep track of their experience, they needed an EMR or electronic medical record system. 

 "We needed something that was fitted for high volume short term clinics," Draugelis explained. "We don't have time to scroll and look at all the tabs in the EMR system. We need something very bare bones, very, very basic." 

So, they looked into the EMR systems that already existed, but none of them fit the bill. 

"At first, we thought that we could make a medical record system like this on our own," Brown recalled. "But then we realized we were in way over our heads and needed help, so that is how we found Dr. Marcus." 

Dr. Andrian Marcus is an associate professor of Computer Science at Wayne State and he teaches a senior project class where the students use what they have learned to work on real world projects. An EMR system for the transient clinics in Haiti was the perfect project for them.

 "Usually when people write software it is hard to say that I saved lives because I wrote three lines of code right? That doesn't happen," Marcus said.

The students completely run the project and Kevin Zurek is taking the lead on it.  

 "Our task was to create the software that the medical students could use in Haiti, without electricity," Zurek explained. "They get electricity in the evenings, and the purpose of the software is to record information about the patients that they see in Haiti." 

The software they created is called fEMR, or free EMR. The hope is that this system will help increase the quality and continuity of care the Haitian patients receive, as well as collect data so they can study the impact of these transient clinics.  

 "A lot of them rely on these transient clinics, these volunteer clinics for there soul source of health care," Draugelis said. "So obviously we need to take great care into how we provide healthcare for these patients." 

One major way they are helping their patients in Haiti is by providing them a copy of their medical records that they can keep with them.

"What we want to have happen is have the EMR system spit out a PDF [of their medical record] on that thumb drive and give it to the patient so if they do get a chance to go to the Haitian Hospital they can see what kind of medications we've given them," Draugelis said.

Neither Draugelis, Brown or the computer science students are getting paid for all their hard work, but they don't mind, because this program could mean saving lives.

"I feel like right now, we are on our way to helping these different communities, but I think we can do a lot better and I think this is the first step in improving that," Draugelis said.  

If you would like to find out more or donate to their cause, visit their website at

About the Author:

Michelle Oliver is a multimedia Journalist for the 10 a.m. lifestyle show, "Live in the D." She is known as "the food girl" because of her two popular food franchises, Dine in the D and Find Your Fix. Michelle also covers stories on homegrown businesses, style, and other fun things happening in the D.