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New Canaan High School senior donates bed sheets to Haitian hospital

Published 11:37 am, Wednesday, February 27, 2013

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  • Temporary emergency tents at the Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.New Canaan teen Bobby Erickson donated more than 80 sheets to this hospital as part of his Eagle Scout project. Photo: Contributed
    Temporary emergency tents at the Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot, Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.New Canaan teen Bobby Erickson donated more than 80 sheets to this hospital as part of his Eagle Scout project. Photo: Contributed

 

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In New Canaan, it's easy enough to just assume everyone has clean sheets, especially people in hospitals, but in some parts of the world, such as the overwhelmingly impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, that isn't the case.

Bobby Erickson has been a Boy Scout for more than 10 years, climbing the ranks up from Cub Scout. He needed a service project in order to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout from Boy Scout Troop 70 in New Canaan. His project recently concluded, he hopes to attain that rank this spring.

Eagle Scout is the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve, and only about 7 percent of them are Eagle Scouts. Reaching that level has long been a goal of Erickson's.

"I've wanted it since I was a little kid," he said. "My grandfather was an Eagle Scout, and my other grandfather was involved in Scouting, as well as my dad and two brothers. I've done a lot of work in Scouts. I feel that last step is pretty important," he said.

At the suggestion of his mother, Erickson, a senior at New Canaan High School, approached his neighbor, the retired Dr. Thomas Flynn, who has performed humanitarian medical work in Haiti, the poverty- and natural disaster-stricken half of the island of Hispanola, shared with the Dominican Republic.

Erickson decided to collect and send bed sheets to the hospital where Flynn worked. The organization is called CRUDEM, which stands for Center for Rural Development in Milot (a town in Haiti), which runs a private hospital, Hôpital Sacre Coeur. Flynn began volunteering with the organization in 1994, and from 2003 to 2006 was the head of the hospital.

"The hospital had grown from eight beds in its beginning, and at the time of the earthquake it had 64 beds," Flynn said. "We were seeing as many as 55,000 patients a year and delivering 1,200 babies a year."

And then the earthquake struck.

Flynn recalled stories from what people said the hospital was like on Jan. 12, 2010, the day a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit with an epicenter just outside of Port-au-Prince.

"The floor turned to jelly and the operating room jumped 2 feet in the air," he said. "The surgeon thought the Armageddon was coming. Then they went on with the surgery and it was successful."

The earthquake, however, left an estimated 316,000 dead and about 1 million homeless. Flynn went down several days after the earthquake to coordinate volunteers at the hospital and from various aid organizations. The hospital did not withstand the same level of damage as much of the rest of the country and became a hub of the rescue effort.

"They turned the school's classrooms into wards and soccer fields turned into helipads," hesaid. "The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy brought in critically injured by helicopter. We had 420 beds after about two weeks and were having volunteers from all over the country -- (we) had 100 at a time. It was an incredible sight to see."

Since then, the privately funded hospital has remained at twice its previous size, and maintains 120 beds. All those beds need sheets, however, and that's the need Erickson addressed.

He named his project "Give a Sheet for Haiti," and publicized the sheet drive by sending announcements to the local papers and church bulletins. He placed collection bins at St. Aloysius and St. Mark churches, at New Canaan High School, and at his house. In four weeks he received more than 80 sheets, though a final count remains to be completed.

Erickson said he thought some of the lessons he learned in Boy Scouts were the impetus behind his project.

The idea of self-reliance is one which Erickson said the Boy Scouts instilled in him over the years, through camping trips, hiking trips and rock climbing. His troop has been to Wyoming, New Mexico, Switzerland, Alaska, and takes a monthly camping trip locally.

"Nature teaches you a lot about yourself and toughness and self-reliance," he said, recalling a Boy Scouts trip to New Mexico for a 110-mile hike and climb up the 12,000 foot Mount Baldy. "Getting up and down that in the midst of a 10- or 11-mile day of hiking will teach you a thing or two about what you're made out of."

But when people are not in a position to be self-reliant, Erickson said that's when aid is a good thing.

"Most of the Eagle Scout projects are within the community and they're all wonderful projects, but I wanted to do something outside the box," he said. "I think everything they teach you in Scouting about helping others, I tried to take that the extra mile for people who couldn't get help on their own, so I think that came out of what Boy Scouts taught me."

"I'm proud," Erickson said. "It feels good to do something for the world."

And so is Flynn.

"That's wonderful. The fact that he wanted to do it was good. I'm so proud of him."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews