Romel Joseph, violinist and Haiti earthquake survivor, returned Friday to the place that gave him a second chance at life.
“This place will always be my home,” said Joseph, 53, standing in the atrium of Jackson Memorial Hospital’s diagnostic treatment center. “I’m really happy I can play again.”
And play he did, celebrating life, three years later.
The brief concert was Joseph’s way of thanking doctors at Jackson, where he spent three months after he was pulled from the ruins of his collapsed music school after 18 hours. Less than 24 hours after the tragedy, Project Medishare, an organization founded by University of Miami/Jackson physicians Barth Green and Arthur Fournier, arrived on the ground in Haiti with a medical team of trauma experts.
“That whole experience for me just puts life in perspective,” said Dr. Leo Harris, a Jackson trauma expert who was on that first medical evacuation flight and many that followed. “Life is short. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Harris and his fellow physicians are just some of the people who responded to the Haitian tragedy. They were lauded Friday along with countless others who showed their support, as South Florida remembered the Jan. 12, 2010 tragedy.
“This is a powerful reminder of the many ways that we in South Florida are brothers and sisters with our neighbors in Haiti,” Jackson’s CEO Carlos A. Migoya said as he introduced Joseph and his fellow musicians — daughter Victoria and son Bradley. The trio played a series of sobering concertos.
At the end of their brief concert, Joseph told the crowd, “Don’t give up on Haiti.”
It was a message that was echoed across town where a delegation of South Florida elected-officials gathered in North Miami to also show their support for Haiti on the eve of the quake’s anniversary.
“It was a sad day and the entire world stood still as we watched a country ravished by a massive earthquake,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, flanked by more than a dozen lawmakers. “So many people suffered. So many people died. We watched them buried alive.”
Wilson and most of her fellow lawmakers wore black.
“We’re dressed in black because we mourn what we know happened,” she said.
Haiti’s halting progress at rebuilding was not lost on the group, who implored donors to make good on the more than $2 billion in pledges that remain outstanding from their promised $5.3 billion to help Haiti rebuild.
There also were words for President Michel Martelly, who will welcome former President Bill Clinton on Saturday for a commemorations in Haiti.
“The government of Haiti has to get its act together,” Wilson said, noting that mayoral and senatorial elections in Haiti are long overdue and needed to help the rebuilding.
“Instead of electing people, the president is appointing — and they are his friends,” she said, referring to the palace’s controversial policy of firing and appointing of mayors throughout Haiti.
As she spoke, about two dozen protesters periodically interrupted the news conference, demanding that the Obama administration approve a Haitian family reunification program. The policy would allow thousands of Haitians, already approved for entry into the United States, to join their families.
Back at Jackson, the mood was more sober than political.
Joseph spent three months at the hospital after being airlifted from Port-au-Prince with both legs, an arm and three fingers broken. His pregnant wife died two floors below him. He survived by playing the strains of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in his head.
But Friday was a day to look ahead. He spoke of his efforts to build Haiti’s first concert hall, and to rebuild his school, where he taught classical music to impoverished youths. So far, he said, he’s raised about $60,000 of the $120,000 needed for the building.
It doesn’t mean that he’s forgotten the tragedy, said the legally-blind Julliard-trained musician.
“You always remember,” he said. “It’s always there.”
Reflecting on the more than 300,000 killed and the 300,000 injured, Joseph considers himself among the lucky ones.
“I’ve come a long way,” he said, noting that he still has more doctors visits. “I didn’t think I would be alive.”