Visiting earthquake-ravaged Haiti has been an eye-opening experience for the Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban.
The rookie defenceman and former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque spent three days this week meeting patients and their families at Grace Children's Hospital in Port-au-Prince and getting a first-hand look at the effects of the Jan. 12, 2010 quake that killed an estimated 300,000 and left more than one million homeless.
"I've never been to a poor country, I've never even been anywhere in the Caribbean, so this is a pretty different experience," Subban said in a telephone interview this week. "I don't know if it changes you, but it definitely affects you as a person."
Subban and Laraque made the trip to help fundraising efforts for Hockey For Haiti, a joint effort by the NHL Players' Association and World Vision, a Christian relief organization.
Most of the visit centred on Grace Hospital, one of the country's leading pediatric facilities that was almost completely destroyed. More than $1.3-million raised so far by Hockey For Haiti has helped build a temporary hospital across the street from the old location. They hope to raise more for a new permanent facility.
"There's not much left of the old one - the roof has collapsed," said Subban, who was due to return on Thursday night. "They are still running some medical facilities on that side of the street, but they're not operating facilities.
"It's just the only way to do it. They need a hospital. But as a temporary facility, I was truly amazed with what they've done."
"The health services at Grace Children's Hospital are even more critical since the earthquake," Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, said in a statement. "Too many children suffering from tuberculosis have abandoned their treatment and care.
"The disease spreads through prolonged exposure in close quarters such as the tent camps where thousands of families are still living."
The fun part for Subban and Laraque was a coupe of ball hockey games with patients. Laraque, who is of Haitian descent, has been active in relief efforts since early on. It helps that he can speak the local languages, French and Creole.
For Subban, it has been an experience he never dreamed of growing up in Toronto.
"It makes you value things," he said. "It gives me a different perspective on life.
"I've never seen a country like that. I've never seen a city in that state. Seeing people in that state is definitely going to have an effect on you. It's had a huge effect on me. I'm going to take back my experience here and the knowledge that I've gained and I'm going to share it with my family and friends because it's definitely a life-changing experience."
Subban said he joined the cause after a chat two weeks ago with Laraque.
"Before he was finished talking I said 'just let me know the dates and I'll be there,"' said Subban. "I want to be a part of it.
"I asked my parents and they said 'it's a great cause and we're happy you're a part of this.' I want to help."