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Volunteerism part of local couple's mission
March 11 , 2010

Martha Diaz de Chhina examines an earthquake victim in Haiti. Photo | Chhina
Santokh Singh Chhina and his wife, Martha Diaz de Chhina, in Haiti. Photo | Chhina


Medical personnel are urgently needed to assist in Haiti through the United Sikhs program, recognized by the United Nations. For further information, contact the Chhinas at 386-679-8939.

When an injured Haitian boy was carried into the medical tent, Dr. Martha Diaz de Chhina realized his brain trauma needed more help then she could give on site.

In earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Chhina -- a native El Salvadorian neurologist who lives in Ormond Beach -- stabilized the boy as best she could and arranged to have him transported for further help.

"They said we could send him to a Miami University Hospital tent that was set up near the airport in Port au Prince," Chhina said. "They had X-rays there, and more supplies and could perform surgeries that nobody else could do."

Chhina's medical degree is not recognized in the United States. She works only as a certified nurse assistant at Halifax Health Medical Center of Daytona Beach while studying to acquire her U.S. medical license. The multi-linguist has learned English and became an American citizen.

But her skills and credentials as a neurologist in El Salvador were welcomed in Haiti, where the need is great and doctors are in short supply.

Chhina and her husband, Santokh "San" Singh Chhina, spent a week working there recently in association with a United Sikhs program, recognized by the United Nations. While Martha Chhina donated her medical skills, San Chhina delivered meals to orphanages across the countryside.

"They asked for our credentials. I have my (medical) license up to date in my (former) country and they said, 'You are good to help,' " the neurologist said.

At first she went into disaster areas with a translator and saw as many patients as possible, prescribing help. Later, she went to the Miami University Hospital tent to check on the boy she had seen earlier.

"They had no internal medicine doctors or neurologists at the time. So I worked as a neurologist -- all night, taking sleep breaks, then going back to work," she said.

Melissa Gaston, coordinator for centralized staffing, said Halifax Health is proud of the work Martha Chhina did in Haiti.

"Martha came to us and let us know what her plans were with her husband. They are passionate folks that give back and she is the most humble human being," Gaston said. "We could not have been any prouder of her.

"She is working below her education level (at Halifax), but it keeps her in the hospital helping her fellow man and her family before she sits for her boards.

"She'll be a wonderful neurologist for our area," Gaston said.

The Haiti mission was not a first for the Chhinas. San Chhina delivered meals in El Salvador following an earthquake there in 2001.

"We met each other when he came to my country during the earthquake," Martha Chhina said.

They later married and she relocated to Ormond Beach. In December 2009, the couple went to India on an eye-camp mission, delivering eyeglasses to the masses.

During their early February trip to Haiti, the couple felt their help barely scratched the surface.

"One day we had 1,200 meals and we had supplied about 600 when two pastors took us to another location," San Chhina said. But at that location they had to back out quietly. "When they opened the gate, there were thousands of children, and we couldn't deliver."

Martha Chhina said she wishes she could do more and will assist any doctors who want to volunteer in making connections and arrangements.

"I feel grateful that people from all over the world get together when somebody needs help," she said. "There were no religious or race divisions among human beings at all, but all were treated with the same love."

MEDICAL HELP SOUGHT: Medical personnel are urgently needed to assist in Haiti through the United Sikhs program, recognized by the United Nations. For further information, contact the Chhinas at 386-679-8939.

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