USAID Doctor Travels The World Offering Care

By Lisa Sinclair

CLYDETTE POWELL’s work as a pediatric neurologist has taken her all over the globe, from Cambodia to Congo and, most recently, to earthquake-stricken Haiti.

Powell graduated from Old Dominion in 1972 with a B.S. in chemistry and pre-medical studies and went on to earn a medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1976. A medical officer in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Global Health, she had served as a member of its Haiti Health Team for nine years before the devastating earthquake struck the poorest nation in the Caribbean in January.

Her experience with USAID ensured she was no stranger to the travails of the Haitian people and she was anxious to use her skills as a physician to help.

As the international community mobilized to send aid to Haiti, the United States was organizing its own considerable response to the disaster. The USNS Comfort, the U.S. Navy’s “floating hospital,” was enlisted to be the primary facility for providing medical care to injured victims, and Powell was offered a place on board. She said she felt “the sense of patriotism as an American to reach out and serve the people of Haiti whose lives were so deeply altered by the earthquake.”

When the Comfort arrived in Haiti, Powell and her fellow medical professionals were confronted with an overwhelming and heartbreaking scene of human devastation. “We provided a myriad of clinical and public health services while on board,” she recalled. In all, they treated more than 1,000 patients.

Powell said she drew strength from the memory of her father, a career Navy officer who died less than a year before the disaster. He set the example of faithfully serving his country and helping in places of conflict around the world, she said. “I wish he could have participated in the joy of my working alongside the U.S. Navy for that month of service in Haiti.”