PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - As a nurse of Haitian descent, Marie Leblanc's volunteer stint in Haiti will be bittersweet as she knows she will be able to help many people desperately in need, but her help will have come too late for her 18-month-old cousin.
The baby boy was one of an estimated 200,000 people killed in the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 that decimated the small country and left thousands more in urgent need of aid.
Leblanc travelled over the weekend to Port-au-Prince with a group of nurses from the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, many of them with personal ties to Haiti. She expects to be there for three weeks.
Leblanc has always wanted to put her nursing skills to use in a disaster zone, but she wishes she could have used them to help her baby cousin, who was buried underneath the rubble of his home.
"I can't help him, but you have to deal with the reality of it," she said. "It happened. It hurts. It is painful, but what can we do? I have to stay strong for the other ones that are weaker."
Like many others with ancestral ties to Haiti, the images of destruction were almost too much to bear.
"Sometimes it's like I'm speechless," Leblanc said. "I say to myself, `Is this a nightmare? Is this a dream? Am I going to wake up?' But it's reality. It's just a lot to deal with."
Leblanc and the other Montreal nurses, doctors, government aid workers, volunteers from aid organizations and airline volunteers flew to Port-au-Prince on an Air Canada flight that was also carrying 35,000 kilograms of aid - such as medical supplies, food rations, water, generators, tents and blankets.
The aid may give a makeshift hospital outside the airport a fighting chance.
After learning of the medical team's plight, trying to treat the wounded and sick with few supplies, Air Canada executive Duncan Dee stepped in. Various organization and companies donated everything from generators and gurneys to bandages and diapers. Workers were positively brimming while unloading the supplies from the airplane's cargo hold.
A large portion of the aid, including nutrition bars specially formulated for people who haven't eaten in a while, was organized by the charity OneXOne. Frank McKenna, chairman of OneXOne and former Canadian ambassador to the U.S., was on the flight and said there has been a tremendous outpouring of support from Canadians.
"Canada is the biggest per capita donor in the world," McKenna said. "I think the response of our citizens and the government of Canada has been exemplary ... We have a strong connection to the Haitian community."
The medication - antibiotics, oral rehydration agents and painkillers - was donated by pharmaceutical companies.
In rich countries like Canada people tend to take basic medical care for granted, but in a country like Haiti there is a great need even in the best of times, said Glen Shepherd, president of Health Partners International of Canada.
"We're not dealing with luxury or cutting-edge medicines; we're dealing with the basics (such as) antibiotics," Shepherd said. "They're desperately needed in a country like Haiti, especially now."
Daniel Doremy, a nurse from Montreal who was born in Haiti, said he couldn't bear to watch his ravaged country on television without doing anything to help.
"It just deeply affected me because I just felt very overwhelmed by the whole situation," he said.
"If I had a million dollars I would want to donate it. I don't have that, but I'm a nurse and I felt there was probably something I could do to help."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that Canadians have so far donated $67 million to the Haiti relief efforts.
Leblanc and other aid workers felt they needed to give more than money.
"You can give as much money in the world, but sometimes you just need that hands-on care, that presence," she said. "You have people that are dying that need the medical care, that need the time, that need to be seen - and every second counts right now."
Nadia Susel, 28, said she came close to being able to put her nursing skills to use in a natural disaster area once before and always regretted the missed opportunity. The Montreal nurse was in New Orleans the day before hurricane Katrina and wishes she hadn't left a day earlier than she was supposed to.