Better Than a Rock Star

I was listening to my sons play “American Idol” with my niece and nephews on our recent trip to Blackwater Falls, when I heard one of the boys say something about Lady Gaga. (really?) He went on about several different artists, voice dripping with admiration. 

It was clear that my young nephew was starstruck.  

It got me to thinking about heroes, and who are some of mine. And the kind of hero I would like my sons to hold up.

I would like to introduce you to someone who fits the bill. His name is Kenneth C. Wright and he is the Medical Director of the rehabilitation center where I work. Not only is Dr. Wright very attentive to his patients here in West Virginia, he has served as a medical missionary to Haiti for several years now. His latest mission trip was in February of this year, just a few weeks after the devastating earthquake that changed so much for the people he has served faithfully over the years.

I caught up with Ken recently and asked him to tell us a little about his experiences in Haiti.

**Before we jump into your missionary experience, Dr. Wright, will you tell us a little about your background?
I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which makes me a “Yooper.”  I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, MD from University of Michigan, and did my residency in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at University of Minnesota.  I was in academic medicine at University of Pittsburgh for four years before moving to Charleston for my present job in 1987.  I’ve been here ever since as the Medical Director of the CAMC Medical Rehabilitation Center.  I am board certified in PM&R, Spinal Cord Injury Medicine, and Electrodiagnostic Medicine.

**Let’s start by how you began the Haiti mission work. Tell us a little about the organization you work with, how many times have you gone, and what got you involved in the first place?
I have been on six trips to Haiti, beginning in 2007.  I started with the Friends of Fort Liberte´, a West Virginia group.  Dr. Rick Hayes and his wife Laura organize the Charleston branch.  I learned about it from a pharmacist friend, Stacy Walls, who recruited me for the first trip.  FFL is an ecumenical Protestant group associated with the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Fort Liberte´.  They run a clinic that provides outpatient care.  I have been once with Healing Hands for Haiti, a rehab group.  It ran a rehab clinic in Port-au-Prince, which was leveled by the recent earthquake.  Last November my daughter Lydia, who is a first year med student at Emory, invited me to go with their chapter of Project Medishare to Tomonde, where we held mobile clinics in the central highlands.  Four weeks ago I returned from my fourth trip with FFL.  However, they “loaned” me to CRUDEM, a catholic organization which runs L’Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot, just down the road from Fort Liberte´.  I took care of refugees from the Port-au-Prince earthquake in the tent hospital, including a large number of spinal cord injury and amputation patients.  I also spent time at the HHA facility in Carrefour La Morte, a Baptist SCI facility about four miles from Milot.

 Ken and Lydia in Haiti
**What keeps you going back?
I keep coming back because I have fallen in love with Haiti.  I have always known that I would be involved with Haiti at some time in my life.  I have been intrigued by the country since I was a little boy.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am being called to serve there.
**I know that you have learned to speak Creole, which is one of Haiti’s official languages, along with French. What else have you done to prepare yourself for this mission work?
I prepare for the trips by getting lots of vaccinations, taking malaria prophylaxis, working on my language skills, and reviewing general medicine.  I also go to the FFL “pill packing parties” at First Presbyterian Church of S. Charleston, although I have to admit I didn’t pack many pills this year.  
**What is a “normal” mission trip like? What kinds of work do you do, what types of problems do you deal with, etc.
A normal trip involves long clinic hours seeing many patients all too quickly, lots of waiting in airports and riding on buses, and much camaraderie.  We sleep many people to a room and eat family style.  It has been termed summer camp for adults.  As far as the clinical work, we usually do general medicine.  There is lots of hypertension.  We see lots of infectious disease, especially skin disease.  Some people don’t have anything wrong, but just come for the medications.  Over the counter medicines are hard to come by in Haiti, so they tell us their stomach hurts so they can have a supply of antiacids at home just in case.  We see a few rare diseases like elephantiasis, as well as diseases that have progressed far beyond what they would in the USA, like goiters and advanced cancers.
**Have you had a chance to enjoy the culture and, if so, tell us a little about that. (I remember the music you love!)

Things I enjoy about the culture include the food- very spicy, with lots of rice and beans, plantains, tropical fruits, and unusual meats such as goat.  The history is fascinating.  Haiti is the only county in the world to have a successful slave revolt.  There is wonderful art and music.  I am a great fan of French language and culture, and enjoy the mixture of African and French influences in Haiti.  When you have a lot of time I will tell you about Voudon, the indigenous religion and the source of much of the imagery in their music and art.  It is misunderstood by Americans.

Monument at Vertieres, site of final battle of Haitian revolution

**Would you like to share the story of the young man you came to godfather? 

My godson is Emmanuelo Alexandre, a 24 year old young man who worked as my interpreter.  I sponsored his college graduation by paying for the diploma, robe rental, etc.  which makes me a “godfather” (or parenn in Creole).  I am helping with his tuition at the university in the Dominican Republic, where he is studying to be an ophthalmology assistant.  Last month I was able to visit his home and have dinner with his family.

**Would you please share a little about how this most recent trip was different from the past ones? The world has been deeply moved by the state of desolation and the many types of loss the Haitian people have undergone since the earthquake. Did you sense a change in the mood of the Haitian people?
My last trip was different in that I was doing inpatient care and treating patients more like the ones I see at home.  Since the earthquake there are more resources and people there to help, but it is not very organized.  I feel like I did some good but spent much time spinning my wheels, so to speak.  I am amazed by the spirit of the Haitians, and their ability to reach out to help others, even when they have so little themselves.  I am hopeful that the world will continue to devote resources to rebuilt Haiti.  Right now the most desperate need is for shelter.  After that they need to get the government, schools, and hospitals up running again.  Then they need to fix the economy, which was in very poor condition even before the earthquake.
**From what you saw while you were there, what are the needs that are most desperate for these people now?


At this time I am trying to figure out what I can do that will be most helpful.  For a while I considered bringing a Haitian tetraplegic patient to Charleston, but it looks like he will go to Houston Texas.  I may put together a SCI rehab team to go back to HHA at Carrefour La Mort in late summer or fall.
**Thank you so much for sharing this with us today, Dr. Wright. And thank you for all that you have done for the Haitian people. You are a true blue hero!


  1. says

    Thank you for the introduction. I love how Dr. Wright says he has been fascinated by Haiti since he was a young boy. If we pay attention to our fascinations more, maybe we could pinpoint our passions easier.

    Sure do love you, Laura. Thanks for praying with me, sweet friend.

  2. says

    Echoing others: very good interview.

    I hope that Dr. Wright will tell us some time his impressions of voudou. He is so right that it is misunderstood!

    Everyone I’ve ever met who has been to Haiti loves the country. I hope one day to have a chance to visit the country.

  3. says

    Since I myself can’t get away from my experience in Haiti, I loved this interview. Thank you for introducing us to Dr. Wright and sharing his experiences with us. I pray for his continued involvement with the Haitian people.



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