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Veterans lead life-saving mission to storm-ravaged Haiti

SAN ANTONIO – Two local paramedics lead a life-saving mission through storm-ravaged Haiti, to a remote peninsula cut off from the rest of the world.

Josh James and Matthew Neel, paramedics at Acadian Ambulance Services, said they were approached about joining an emergency response team to the island shortly after Hurricane Matthew hit.

They ended up being part of a team of five that was the first to see the damage done to the island.

“We were the first airplane to land at Port au Prince Airport when the reopened Wednesday morning,” James said. “Non-military,” offered Neel in correction. The team ended up being assigned to Dame Marie, a coastal town on the southwest side of the island that had been its communications cut off. At the time they arrived, nobody knew how the people of the town were doing. Neel and James said they took only what supplies they could carry on their backs and hiked 10 miles to reach the town, surveying and filming the damage along the way. “What was once a lush jungle was really reduced to a wasteland,” James said. They said when they arrived they found 95 percent of the buildings had been leveled. The hospital they said, had been looted, forcing their team to make due with $100 worth of antibiotics from a local pharmacy. Their only form of communication was the very roofs above their heads. “When we got there at first, we spray-painted the top of the hospital just to say, ‘hey we’re here. We’re okay,’” Neel said. The two said they spent their first day setting up the emergency room of the hospital, buying supplies, and boiling a supply of safe drinking water for the community. That day they treated their first 70 patients for tetanus, cholera, and infected wounds. After that, they lost count. “At any point in your career, you’re always going to be dealing with situations where you have to make do with what you have,” said Neel. “It was just doing that on a really grand scale.”The two stayed in the area with their team for three days. By the end, they were able to clear a landing zone so that three full plane-loads of food and medical supplies could be delivered. Shortly after, they said chinook helicopters and barges were able to arrive, signaling a full-scale international aid effort to the once cut-off community.

Now the two are back in San Antonio, although they hope they can find the time to return and continue what they started. “I think we were like a symbol of hope,” said James. “That was really nice.”

The two were working on behalf of an organization called HERO.

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