Partners in health

Dr. Dean Mire, Sacred Heart Parish teamed with Dr. Farmer to build Haiti health-care ministry      

By Bill Brewer

Dr. Dean Mire, a Knoxville family practice physician who has helped lead the Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish’s medical ministry in Haiti, remembers his first encounter with Dr. Paul Farmer.

Dr. Mire and his volunteer team of Sacred Heart missionaries had established a small medical clinic in the Boucan-Carré region of rural Haiti more than a year before Dr. Farmer inquired about it.

Dr. Farmer with Dr. Mire and his wife Sonya in Knoxville.

“We were in a small building we had renovated into a small clinic. There was a larger, dilapidated building nearby, and Paul wanted to build a large clinic in Boucan-Carré with Partners In Health,” Dr. Mire recalled. “He wanted to work with us, and we merged. We closed our clinic down after they opened the larger clinic.”

It was that spirit of partnership and a determination to serve as many people in need as possible that Dr. Mire remembers fondly—and he will miss.

Dr. Farmer, a renowned global health pioneer who took that early model of providing medical care to those in most need in Haiti and spread it around the world, died unexpectedly Feb. 21 in a Rwandan hospital he helped build.

Partners In Health, the global health-care organization Dr. Farmer helped establish, said he died of   “an acute cardiac event while he was sleeping.”

As Sacred Heart medical missionaries and Partners In Health staff oversaw the clinic and the care it provided rural Haitians, the clinic grew and expanded its services, providing obstetric deliveries and treatment for cholera and other infectious diseases, as well as treatments to improve the nourishment of children and adults.

A volunteer associated with Sacred Heart Parish’s Haiti outreach program administers medical care to an infant in Haiti, where medical care and supplies can be scarce.

The Sacred Heart-Partners In Health partnership was so successful that they partnered on a second clinic in Bouly, Haiti. As Sacred Heart’s Haiti Outreach Ministry continued to focus on that impoverished, crisis-riddled nation, Dr. Farmer exported their clinic-development program to other countries via Partners In Health.

Dr. Farmer and Dr. Mire continued their friendship, with Dr. Farmer even lending his time to assist the Sacred Heart Haiti ministry.

“Paul has been to our diocese three or four times,” Dr. Mire said, noting that Dr. Farmer was a featured guest speaker at diocesan events Sacred Heart hosted for its Haiti ministry.

Dr. Mire finds it hard to believe his friend has died as he was bringing health care to so many in need around the world.

“I was in touch with him on a monthly basis through e-mail. It broke everyone’s heart when he passed away. He was so vibrant and so good for the world. He changed the way third-world health care is provided, especially with infectious diseases,” Dr. Mire said.

Dr. Mire has admiration for Dr. Farmer’s work in treating the Ebola virus, tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV.

“He has changed the world in the treatment of tuberculosis in third-world countries,” Dr. Mire noted, recalling how his close friend went into Russian prisons that were beset with infectious disease cases to offer treatment.

Dr. Farmer and Jordan Pyda

Dr. Mire pointed out that a Knoxville Catholic High School graduate, Jordan Pyda, developed such an interest in Sacred Heart’s Haiti outreach program that he spent years in Haiti treating residents in the medical clinic after graduation.

Jordan developed a close friendship with Dr. Farmer and followed in his and Dr. Mire’s footsteps, getting his medical degree from the University of Tennessee in Memphis and then receiving a medical fellowship at Harvard University.

Dr. Mire described Dr. Pyda’s fellowship as training in global transplant surgery.

“Jordan worked very closely with Dr. Farmer in Haiti,” he said, adding that Dr. Pyda’s medical vocation formation is greatly influenced by his work with Dr. Farmer in Haiti.

While they had kept in contact via e-mail, Dr. Mire said he last saw Dr. Farmer several years ago following a devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Now, he is left with memories of their work shared in Haiti, such as when the Boucan-Carré clinic was built and the leader of Haiti was on hand to dedicate it in 2004.

While intense political and civil unrest in Haiti has prevented the Sacred Heart Haiti outreach ministry from being on the ground in the Caribbean country in recent months, Dr. Mire said the ministry continues to get funding to the clinics, schools, parishes, and other points of critical need.

And until the medical ministry can return to Haiti, Dr. Mire will fondly recall his friendship with Dr. Farmer and the pioneering medical work they did.

The clinic work advanced to the point where volunteer physicians in the Diocese of Knoxville, like Dr. Jeff Keenan, Dr. James Baker, and Dr. Paul Froula, were performing orthopedic, eye, and other surgeries.

“We’ve made an impact down there. We’re still financing a great deal of things with the help of our Haiti ministry partners in Virginia and St. Louis,” Dr. Mire pointed out.

“We’re trying to make it a better place. We, with our team, and Dr. Farmer and Partners In Health, were doing that,” he said.

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