TOP: DEB PROUDLY DISPLAYING HER HAITI BLING WITH SOME LOCAL FRIENDS.
BOTTOM: TONY WITH ONE OF HIS MANY YOUNG PATIENT FRIENDS THAT HAS BENEFITED FROM BLUE SKY’S EFFORTS.
A single visit evolved into a medical mission
In 2007, while a practicing general surgeon at Bryn Mawr Hospital in the Philadelphia suburbs, Anthony Coletta volunteered for his first medical mission to Haiti. It was a transformative moment in his career — and life.
Tony couldn’t believe how little infrastructure and resources the country had. To address these needs, he founded the Blue Sky Surgical Team. Made up of doctors and nurses from the Philadelphia region and beyond — most of whom volunteer their time and money — this team provides much-needed surgical care to the people of Haiti.
As one of the first on the ground there after the devastating 2010 earthquake, Tony was further inspired to grow the team and continue to take medical missions every year.
Dr. Coletta shared his experience in even greater detail in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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The Blue Sky Surgical Team is made up of doctors and nurses from the Philadelphia region and beyond, most of whom volunteer their time and money. The team provides much-needed surgical care to the people of Haiti. Since 2007, the Team Leaders have consistently provided their skill, compassion and leadership, year after year.
Surgeon, Founder and President of Blue Sky
Tony is a board-certified general surgeon who merges a distinguished clinical career and success as a healthcare visionary and business leader with his passion for delivering health care to the people in Haiti.
He founded the Blue Sky Surgical team in 2007, serves as Team Leader, and has performed hundreds of surgeries on men, women and children of Haiti. Tony has been recognized as one of the Top 10 People Transforming Health Care in Philadelphia.
Anesthesiologist, Supply Logistics
John is Blue Sky’s lead anesthesiologist and has been a member of the team since 2010. He manages all pharmaceuticals for the mission trips and is lead for supply logistics in the U.S.
When he’s not in Haiti, John is an anesthesiologist for United Anesthesia Services at Lankenau Hospital of Main Line Health in Wynwood, PA. He received his medical degree from Temple University School of Medicine.
Medical Translator, In-Country Logistics
Pierre hails from Haiti and since 2007 he’s served several critical in-country roles. As our medical translator, he explains conditions and treatments to patients and reassures them prior to surgery.
Outside of the clinic, Pierre works closely with the Blue Sky Surgical team to find, buy and deliver local food and supplies and manage in-country logistics. He also hires a crew of local cooks who prepare amazing meals for our team of nearly 30 people throughout our 10-day mission.
Primary Care Doctor, In-Country
A local Haitian, Peter is the Health Director and full-time primary care physician at the Double Harvest Clinic, located outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
As a Blue Sky team member, Peter identifies and schedules patients prior to and during the mission trips and he coordinates patient flow with other Blue Sky medical staff. Peter also focuses on follow-up and continuity of patient care to ensure the most favorable medical outcomes possible.
Our Mission Philosophy
Avoiding the White Knight Syndrome
From before I went to Haiti for the first time in 2007, I clearly remember my son Nick’s admonition, “Avoid the white knight syndrome.” At the time, I had no idea what that was, but 13 years later, I understand it more than ever as I have lived it and witnessed it. It takes work to avoid.
There are critics of short term medical mission trips especially to countries like Haiti. One of the premises is that these teams who fly in and out not only do not leave sustainable medical resources behind, but run the risk of displacing or at the very least marginalizing indigenous medical resources. Short term medical mission teams are sometimes characterized as serving themselves more than others.
We at Blue Sky do the best we can to understand this dynamic. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about the enormous gratification that we feel and that the Haitians express to us as a result of our work. But we return year after year, sometimes in unstable conditions, because for many of us, it has become a calling. A calling to transform lives where we know that, even if short term became long term, we would never fulfill the unending needs in Haiti, or any other country so desperately cut off from the resources so many take for granted. And while transforming those lives, one Haitian patient at a time, we work hard to transform our “short term” mission, into a series of missions over the long term, building relationships in Haiti with Haitian doctors, nurses, and team members from whom we all learn together and hope that pieces of what we learn are left behind each time we visit.
There are two things we intentionally do each time we travel that serve as examples of our philosophy.
First, we buy all of our food supplies for the week in Haiti upon our arrival. This includes perishables and non-perishables. Teammates can bring any special type of food they want, but otherwise, we invest where and when we can in the local economy. Further, we hire Pierre Dilus and his team (a long time Haitian gentleman and friend of mine) to deliver supplies and we use the three Haitian cooks he hires for us for the week to keep us nourished all week. They do an amazing job and from the moment we see them in the kitchen, we embrace them as members of the team. That’s a key point. They are not hired help. They are members of the team who are being paid for what they do. It makes a difference in ways most cannot imagine
Secondly, over the years we have realized that one of the areas that demand will likely outstrip supply for decades to come is in the surgical care of children. Although there are some specialized pediatric facilities in the region, they are very difficult to access and even with their great work, are simply unable to meet the demand especially for straightforward but life changing pediatric procedures such as hernia repair. So a major component of our efforts is to assemble and bring with us pediatric surgical professionals such as Sashi Kumar MD (a world class pediatric surgeon), along with pediatric peri-operative nurses and pediatric anesthesiologists. These resources are so scarce in Haiti that it is hard to believe that we are displacing something that seems like it is almost non-existent.
From the moment we arrived at the Double Harvest Clinic a number of years ago, the Blue Sky Surgical team intentionally reached out to our Haitian colleagues at the clinic. We let them know that we were at their clinic as their guests and thus we asked, and they readily embraced, the opportunity to become active members of the team. Instead of marginalizing them in their own facility, we asked for them to help us. Of course, the leader of these efforts in Haiti is Dr. Peter Pierrot, our primary care colleague who ensures continuity of care before, during and after each one of our trips.
It is in these ways we hope that we are leaving something behind each time we go. As we return to the same region and build on what is there, we see our short term missions actually being one long term mission as we link each visit together and see familiar friends and colleagues each time we return.
Tony Coletta, MD
We are proud of the partnership we’ve created among the doctors, nurses, and health professionals who join Blue Sky missions.
From Holy Redeemer, Temple, and Main Line Health Systems, to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Tandigm Health, the team performs everything from small outpatient procedures to more complicated cases — like a little boy we saw one year who had two massive hernias that needed to be fixed. Our patients range from eight months to 90 years of age.
We’ve watched Haiti struggle for more than a decade and we see how deep the devastation runs, especially since the earthquake. While on the ground, we’ve met patients who would give anything for the most basic care and facilities we sometimes take for granted in the United States.
Just 700 miles from Miami, the Haitian people often suffer — and die — from conditions easily treated and cured here because of the lack of healthcare options available.