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Haiti mission leaves its mark on Orem men

OREM, Utah — Kirk Bertelsen and Chase Tandy are used to helping people, but this was a bit extreme.

Bertelsen,

a 21-year veteran of the Orem Police Department, and Tandy, an Orem

firefighter and paramedic, woke up in their own beds Jan. 28. By the

end of the day, they had settled into tents in the heat and humidity of

Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Bertelsen,

45, and Tandy, 30, used their own vacation time to join the roughly 130

members of the Utah Hospital Task Force, a group of doctors, nurses,

police officers, firefighters, interpreters and others who are

continuing relief and rebuilding efforts as the spotlight on the

earthquake-ravaged island begins to dim.

\"There's just a part of you that feels like you need to go help,\" Bertelsen said.

Their

planned three-week trip was shortened to 15 days after dozens of people

in the group fell ill, but it was still a life-changing experience. And

a haunting one.

\"You come back with new goals, new priorities,\" Tandy said. \"It puts a lot of things in perspective.\"

As

soon as they touched down at the Port-au-Prince airport, they were

immediately confronted by the human toll of the Jan. 12 earthquake: 66

orphans who took their places on the plane, ultimately en route to Utah

to start new lives.

Over the next

two weeks, the faces of countless other children among the piles of

rubble struck Bertelsen and Tandy. How could kids who had seen such

horror have such bright smiles?

\"They

glow. Their teeth are so white,\" said Tandy, who spent much of his time

shuttling between tent hospitals and makeshift clinics at LDS chapels

in and around Port-au-Prince and the nearby mountain villages.

The chaos in the streets had largely died down, but the aura of death was still palpable.

\"You could still smell the bodies in places,\" Tandy said. \"Everybody we talked to had tragedy in their lives.\"

\"The

pictures I had seen did not do it justice,\" said Bertelsen, who

provided security at the Healing Hands of Haiti medical clinic. The

Haitian people he met were always appreciative and welcoming,

especially the children.

\"The first

thing I told my wife when I came home was, I will never complain again.

We have absolutely nothing to complain about,\" Bertelsen said. \"It just

breaks your heart to see what they have to deal with. The hardest part

was to see how many kids were displaced.\"

Some

of the children would come up to him and ask for food and water with

hand motions. Later, he exchanged language lessons with Watson, a

little boy who helped every day at the clinic.

\"I didn't pick up Creole nearly as fast as he picked up English,\" Bertelsen said.

Both Bertelsen and Tandy found it hard to leave behind the people with whom they had quickly formed personal relationships.

They

left behind all the supplies they brought with them but still worry

about what will happen to the makeshift shelters when the rainy season

begins in the coming weeks.

\"You

always wonder, what's going to happen to this child?\" Tandy said. \"How

are they going to get follow-up care? You just wonder how many of them

are going to make it.\"


E-mail: pkoepp@desnews.com