by Hiske Jones
Dr. Jordan Pyda was one of the guests of honor at a memorable and inspiring event held on Oct. 7 at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to raise funds for the Haiti Outreach Program and to honor the legacy of Dr. Paul Farmer, a global health pioneer who died unexpectedly in Rwanda in February.
Dr. Pyda, a graduate of Sacred Heart Cathedral School and Knoxville Catholic High School (KCHS), first met Dr. Farmer while living in Haiti after graduating from college and looking for “moral clarity.” He had been inspired to return to the country after joining a mission trip to Haiti while a student at KCHS in November 2002.
“I met Paul because of Haiti. I did not go to Haiti because of Paul,” Dr. Pyda said.
He credited his parents and the social teachings of the Catholic Church that he learned at Sacred Heart and KCHS for leading him to Haiti and the path his life has taken to help those in need.
What began as a plan to stay a few weeks turned into months and then a couple of years.
During Dr. Pyda’s time in Boucan-Carré, Haiti, his interactions with Dr. Paul Farmer, Dr. Junior Bazile, and the Haitian students and patients forever changed him. Dr. Bazile also was a guest of honor at the Sacred Heart Haiti Outreach Program fundraiser.
“Paul opened many worlds, not just geographic. … He believed that the root of most evil in the world is the idea that some lives matter more than others,” Dr. Pyda said.
Dr. Farmer’s tremendous faith in people’s abilities to change the world and what Dr. Pyda described as Dr. Farmer’s “pragmatic action-packed faith” led to the clarity he was seeking for himself. He knew he had to be part of the solution and work to make a real difference in people’s lives in Haiti.
Dr. Pyda also acknowledged the tremendous influence of several guests gathered inside the Cathedral Hall — “the OGs — people like Dr. Dean Mire and his wife Cindy, Sonya Mire, Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, Billy Stair, and many more.”
“I fell in love with Haiti because of and along with them,” Dr. Pyda said.
He returned to the United States and completed his medical degree at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine and earned a master’s degree in public health from Harvard, where he completed his residency and also was a Paul Farmer Global Surgery Research Fellow.
Dr. Pyda currently is finishing his transplant surgery fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. He is committed to bringing transplant surgeries to developing counties, especially Haiti.
Dr. Bazile, the former medical director in Boucan-Carré, spoke of Dr. Farmer’s legacy.
Dr. Bazile was born in and grew up in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and was inspired to go into the medical profession after witnessing people from all over Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas seek advice from his mother and get her “concoctions.”
While in high school, Dr. Bazile’s mother’s four-month stay at a hospital while being treated for tuberculosis, and the tireless care of the doctors and nurses, solidified his career choice.
After graduating from medical school, he worked in Haiti’s Central Plateau region with Zanmi Lasante, the sister organizations to Partners in Health founded by Dr. Farmer, to make health care more accessible to all.
He vividly recalls the first time he met Dr. Farmer: “I was working in a mobile clinic when I saw this white man with jeans on and muddy boots, working intently to help patients. I had seen him driving the Jeep and bringing several people into the town, so I was very curious about who he was.”
Dr. Bazile soon learned Dr. Farmer was the founder of the organization he was now working with and eventually went to work for — Partners in Health in Boucan-Carré.
Dr. Farmer embodied the philosophy that medical doctors should be change agents and willing to do anything to make that positive change happen.
“With two physicians per 10,000 people, there are lots of jobs to be done,” Dr. Bazile said.
“Paul Farmer leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. With his vision, the many health-care workers in Haiti working under challenging conditions, and the support of people like you in this room tonight, I strongly believe we will continue to see better days in Haiti,” Dr. Bazile concluded.
The fundraising event’s organizer, Bob Grimac, coordinated a team of volunteers to transform the Cathedral Hall into a tropical paradise. Guests were treated to delicious food from Goodness to Go, Naf Naf Grill, Pokeworks, La Flor Bakery, Fazolis, and sides and desserts made by volunteers. Haitian flags adorned the walls and tables, colorful flowers filled the space, and music by the Brian Sward Duo and Edmond Edward playing Caribbean music on a steel drum set the mood for a memorable evening.
“These events bring people together for a good cause. We can’t travel to Haiti right now so doing our part at home to raise funds to support these wonderful activities enables us to embody Dr. Farmer’s ‘faith in the value of action,'” said Matt Webster, chairman of the Haiti Outreach Program.
The Knoxville Haiti Outreach Program has plans to resume its medical missions to Haiti as soon as travel is allowed. Political and civil strife in Haiti have halted on-site mission work by the outreach program and many other U.S. organizations that do outreach in the Caribbean country.