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Local doctor offers personal prescription for Haitian crisis

Natchez physician Lee England has made four medical mission trips to Haiti on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. His photographs of the country, at left, give a glimpse of the life of Haitians. England, above right, recently paid the tuition for medical school for a young Haitian, Stanley Charles, above left.  Charles was Dr. England’s interpreter on the mission trip, but also expressed an interest in a medical career. (Ben Hillyer / Natchez Democrat)

Natchez physician Lee England has made four medical mission trips to Haiti on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. His photographs of the country, at left, give a glimpse of the life of Haitians. England, above right, recently paid the tuition for medical school for a young Haitian, Stanley Charles, above left. Charles was Dr. England’s interpreter on the mission trip, but also expressed an interest in a medical career. (Ben Hillyer / Natchez Democrat)

Four years ago, Dr. Leslie England met the future of Haitian medicine in a clinic with no windows to block the dust and flies coming in.

England, a Natchez-based internist who also serves as the district health officer for Mississippi’s Public Health District 7, has made four medical mission trips to the impoverished nation on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

The island has too few doctors to address the needs of a population in which 7-out-of-10 people are unemployed, and when England would go on the week-long trips, locals would form hours-long lines seeking treatment at the clinic in Port-au-Prince.

Residents speak French and Haitian Creole, and while England knows some French he still relied on a translator. That’s how he met Stanley Charles, a then 18-year-old Haitian man who had as an 11th grader declared to a friend that there was nothing in his heart he wanted more than to study medicine.

“I was learning English, and I had a friend who knew I spoke English, so she asked me to come and be a translator for the clinic,” Charles said. “Being in the clinic, seeing how the doctors treat people, I wanted to do that — it was a very good experience that opened my mind and showed me that.”

The two men struck up a friendship, getting to know one another between patients, and Charles told England of his desire to become a doctor.

When England returned to Port-au-Prince two years later, they worked together again.

By then, Charles had finished high school, but hadn’t been able to pursue medical school, which in Haiti is a seven-year process that incorporates what would translate in the United States as a bachelor’s degree.

Charles had several siblings, he had told his parents not to worry about paying for his education and to focus on theirs instead.

He had hoped to get into public University of Haiti’s Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy, but when he went to take the admissions test, 6,000 others joined him, all vying for only 125 available seats.

“It was very competitive, a very difficult contest,” he said.

Following that second trip, England asked Charles if he could support the student through a private medical school.

“I had watched him with patients and saw him around the clinic, and you could tell he was a very bright guy who just didn’t have the opportunities others did,” England said. “You could see he had a good head on his shoulders.”

England was able to help Charles get into the private Université Lumière’s Faculty of Medicine program. He recently finished his first year of school.

Charles has spent the last three weeks in the United States, one shadowing England at his practice in Natchez and the previous two shadowing a doctor at Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The doctor in Tennessee, who had also worked with Charles in Haiti, arranged the trip. That doctor had also wanted to pay for Charles’ medical school, but since that was taken care of had arranged for him to be able to see medicine practiced in the United States.

Getting to observe a robotic surgery was a memorable experience, Charles said, and the opportunity provided him with a chance to really see how technology can be incorporated into medicine.

England said the doctors are looking to eventually try to arrange an internship in the United States for Charles, who said he wants to study neurology and neurological surgery before returning to Haiti and establishing a practice in a rural area.

And that’s part of why England said he has taken an interest in seeing Charles finish his education.

“I can go down there for a week, but he can be there permanently,” England said. “Even after I couldn’t go down there anymore, he would still be there seeing patients.”