Dr. Mill Etienne began preparing for the earthquake in Haiti when he was five years old.
In 1981 he migrated to the United States from Port Au Prince where he would begin his education. The Naval Lieutenant Commander and Neuro Physician has spent over ten years amassing scholarly credentials but it wasn’t until January 12, 2010 that any of it made real sense.
“I felt like I’d spent my entire life training but I didn’t know what I was training for,” he said at a breakfast in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. sponsored by his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. Dr. Etienne was invited by the Kappa Phi Lambda chapter in Columbia, Maryland to be the keynote speaker for their 36th annual gathering in honor of the fallen Civil Rights leader. “I was getting degrees, doing residencies and fellowships and this earthquake made me feel like I had a very clear purpose. I was able to put those skills I’d garnered over a life time to good use.”
Dr. Etienne majored in behavioral neuroscience at Yale and completed his internal medicine and neurology training at Columbia University, where he also earned a Masters Degree in Public Health. In October 2004 he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserves.
His formal education, training and Haitian heritage all converged when an earthquake literally shook the country’s foundation to its core just days after celebrating their 206th anniversary of Independence. Over 250,000 people died in the quake with over a million more left without a home. Mill immediately wanted to return to his homeland and was relieved when the United States launched “Operation Unified Response.” He joined the crew of the USNS Comfort and set sail for Haiti not realizing how important his presence would be.
“I was the only Physician from Haiti on the ship,” he says with a mix of pride and disbelief. “I was the only one who spoke the Creole language on the ship. So I got a lot of responsibilities thrown my way. I could bridge the cultures of the United States and Haiti.”
Dr. Etienne was charged with setting guidelines for care of the victims and translating for the other attending physicians. Reports of the devastation were not exaggerated. Patients had been paralyzed from spine fractures and were treated for rarely seen diseases like Tetanus.
“Telling a parent that their baby has died is something you never ever want to have to do,” he says. “But I had to do it multiple times throughout [that] mission.”
Dr. Etienne had a niece who was trapped in a house and a cousin was pulled from the rubble beneath a hotel.
After returning from Haiti he went back on his own in October of 2010 to assist with the Cholera epidemic. Almost a year later there is so much that needs to be done and he urges those that are inclined to help do so.
“There is still more work to be done. We’ve had three disasters in one year but the Haitian people have not given up.”