Dr. Wilkens Gilbert: "From Hen to Human"

The following begins a Q&A with Dr. Wilkens Gilbert, one of ~120 surgeons who serve Haiti's population of

~12 million. The material below is presented without editing, requiring some forgiveness as English is not

my dear friend's first language. I'm grateful for Dr. Gilbert sharing his life experience and proud 

to have him as a member of Team Hand To Hand! Please share!

Access the latest Q&A and previous posts.

Why did you choose to practice medicine in your home country?

“It is a great question. Let me begin by establishing how I became a doctor. My choice to study medicine was a matter of vocation I would say.”


"From Hen to Human"

“From my childhood, I have always been fascinated by the work of providers who struggle to heal and relieve the suffering of others. My decision to become a Physician and Surgeon was finally taken in 1990, 10 years before my admission to medical school. In fact, I was on the threshold of my adolescence when an experiment was going to highlight my medical vocation. One of my favorite animals remains the hen, and I remember that one of the best gifts my parents, who were farmers, could offer me was a hen. One of the most exciting moments of my childhood was that knowing my hen made eggs or trailed behind her chicks! On the other hand, the marbles were part of my favorite games and I remember very well the prints left on the dorsal side of my hand forced to play marbles every day at that time. So one day, after school, I played marbles when one of my hens rushed to one of my marbles that I had just thrown. The marble was seized and swallowed by the hen. Unfortunately, the swallowing was difficult and the marble remained stuck to the level of the proximal esophagus. No need to describe my level of anguish when I see my hen brushing death!


I took her in my arms and I could easily palpate the marble on her esophagus. After several unsuccessful attempts to propel the ball down, I decided with great pain to open the throat of the animal to extirpate the wedged marble. Today I would have talked about esophagotomy ... It is important to emphasize that I grew up under the influence of my elder sister who is a sewer and so the manipulation of needles and sewing threads has been familiar to me. So I used a razor blade to open the throat directly in front of the bead and I was surprised to see how easy the ball was externalized! The hardest part then was to close this hole created at the throat of my hen.


Instinctively, I used a needle and a strand of thread from my sister stuffs to carefully close the "operative wound." My anxiety continued in "post-op" because visibly the hen was not well and my mother was running to intervene in time. This meant that she would have to take care of the hen herself before the occurrence of a death that seemed more and more probable and to make it a good chicken food, since, as usual, an animal dead even in a recent way was unsuitable for consumption so if the hen had died by itself we would not be able to eat ... What would constitute a double loss for the family. After care, I placed the hen under a traditional basket made of bamboo to rest during the afternoon. The night was approaching and it seemed so long to raise my anguish a notch. My sleep was gone, and my mind was haunted by the terrible idea of getting up the next day and finding the corpse of my hen in the yard.


At dawn, I rushed with a heavy heart into the family courtyard to see the condition of my hen and a glimmer of hope appeared by lifting the rim of the basket and noticing that she nodded a little bit like to say to myself: "I hold the blow." This finding gave me the strength to go back to school for the day and I was anxious to come home to see evolution as it is today, in my professional practice, I always want to see for myself the slightest signs of evolution of my patients treated / operated.

After class I walked very quickly to go back to the house which was about 2 km from the school. The closer I got to the house, the more the palpitations were accentuated ... I feared any unpleasant surprise, either of a bad evolution or a radical decision of my mother...to prepare some meat with my hen. Upon arriving I dropped my backpack somewhere on ... I cannot remember what and I would say hello to whoever wanted to hear and I rushed to the basket. In lifting I had the greatest happiness to find that the hen to recover even more and wanted to go out to walk away from the basket! So I thought hunger was waiting for her! Today I would have said that this is the time of the reintroduction of the oral diet ... for ease of feeding I used Mom's traditional crusher to make the corn kernels finer by crushing them. Thus obtained, I carried the corn crushed to the beak of the chicken and great was my surprise, she took it all alone! I had won the victory! My happiness was indescribable at that moment and my mother consecrated my exploit (which has been somewhat her "defeat") saying to me: 'I have no doubt my son; you are going to be a doctor!'


Dear friends, the rest of the story, we know it, in 2006, about 15 years later, I completed my basic medical studies before completing my internship (2007), my social service (2008) and specializing in general surgery (2009-2013)."



Dr. Gilbert recently launched a pediatric nutrition program and results, in his own words, are "amazing!"


At left, an unidentified young Haitian boy who participates in the program is a living example of the impact that follows only a few weeks of nutritional support and stability.

So why did I choose to practice in my Home Country?

First of all I am Haitian, proud of being so. I did internships abroad, of course, but my long years of studies were carried out in Haiti. I was therefore exposed to Haitian realities and specificities without, of course, questioning the universality of medical sciences. But beyond all this, I feel strongly that duty calls me to practice in my country. I remind you that I live in a country where unfortunately health remains a luxury. The life expectancy in my country is 64 years and that said, despite my young age; mathematically I have no more than twenty years to live. So I must act to leave a positive trace in this corner of the earth before it is too late! We have a population of around 12M inhabitants while we live with 2 doctors per 10,000 inhabitants! In other words, the country works with around 2000 doctors! It's a disaster!


As far as my surgical specialty is concerned, there are about 100 surgeons (Haitian Association of Surgery). So under these conditions, how can I consider my little person and not put myself at the service of my millions Haitian brothers and sisters? I admit that this is a difficult choice to make. Many colleagues have chosen to move to countries that offer better conditions and other socio-economic advantages to their professional careers. I will never blame them. I have chosen to put myself at the service of the greatest number and the neglected and disinherited people, firmly hoping that I can contribute to changing realities and relieving suffering. I received great support from very good person who help me achieving my goal to become Physician. When I remember my parents’ sacrifices, when I remember Tom Gorin from Mansfield, CT, I say myself, don’t break that positive wave! It’s my turn to help people.”



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