College of Medicine grad student tries to reunite with family in Haiti

A 25-year old Penn State College of Medicine graduate student is attempting to return to her native Haiti to reunite with her mother and sister and try to find her father and grandparents.

Lynnsay Marsan, a native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, says she had spoken with her mother by phone just minutes before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the country on Tuesday. Her family’s home in the Haitian capital was destroyed but it took two days for Marsan to find out whether her mother and other family members survived.
Marsan is pursuing a doctorate in the Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Neuroscience at the College of Medicine in Hershey. She says the two day wait for news from her family was nearly unbearable and made it difficult to focus on her graduate studies and research in the laboratory of Robert Bonneau in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The emotional challenge was compounded by the fact that she is the legal guardian for her 14-year old brother, Vlad, who lives with her.
“It was excruciating. I couldn’t cry or breakdown. I had to be strong for my brother. It was very trying. All I did was pray, not sleep and try to get in touch with people.”
Then, on Thursday afternoon, Marsan received a text message from her stepfather’s niece stating that her mother, stepfather and stepsister were OK. Between 8:30 and 9 p.m. that night, she finally received a call and was able to speak with her mother who relayed that the family had escaped their home just before it was destroyed by the quake.
Marsan still has not received news about her father, who she said would have been driving home from work at the time the earthquake hit. She also has not heard from her grandfather or grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Marsan left Friday morning for Baltimore, where she planned to catch a flight to Miami and then on to Port-au-Prince. She expects to be gone about one week but may stay longer if she is unable to find her father. Her brother is staying behind with Bonneau’s family during her time away. She says she is thankful to the faculty and students at the College of Medicine for their support during her time of need.
“They have been very understanding. I’m missing a few tests, but it is not the biggest worry I have right now,” said Marsan. “Everybody I know at Penn State has been supportive and wonderful. My fellow graduate students helped me pack, stayed at my house with me and provided me support.”
She says she has contacted a friend who, despite the fact that gasoline is in short supply, will meet her at the airport in Haiti and drive her to where her mother and family are now staying. After reuniting with her mother -- and in spite of warnings of instability and a lack of infrastructure in the country -- she plans to search for her father.
“My mother says it is disgusting right now. There are dead bodies everywhere. But I grew up in that part of Haiti. I have been through hurricanes, student riots, fires and lots of other things. It’s going to be a mental challenge but it is a risk I’m willing to take because I’ve got to find out where he is.”


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Last Updated January 19, 2010