Posts filed under ‘Haiti Relief’
We arrived in PAP on Saturday afternoon. After gathering all of our supplies, we piled into our van and headed to the hospital. Upon arrival, there were already 4 or 5 ladies with newborn babies with clefts waiting for us. We unpacked the supplies and headed up the mountain to the home we are staying at. Passing through the main area of PAP was as expected… Tons of tents, rubble in street, and just so many people. Next we passed through petionville, and finally up the mountain to Fermathe. We are staying at the home of a Haitian couple, Nadia and Lance Durban. We had a very homemade dinner.
Today we woke up and realized the beauty of where we are staying. The view is gorgeous and there are avocado trees and wild orchids growing off trees. Very peaceful and quiet.
At 8 am we went down to the hospital for patient screening and prepping the ORs. There are also two inpatient areas, in addition to the ORs and recoveery rooms. About 50 patients were waiting… Mostly with cleft lips. The screening took the entire morning. Patients had traveled from over 5 hours away. One little girl had on a white party dress with white eyelet socks and dress shoes. Adorable. We had to say no to a few patients, mostly patients with vascular malformations, for which we did not have the right treatments. We will definitely bring some sclerosing agents on the next trip. The other patients that we couldn’t offer treatment for were those that were too small- younger than 9 mo or 20 lbs.
Things began to wind down and we were gathering our belongings, when we noticed that a bench we had been sitting on 10 minutes earlier was now occupied by a small body covered in white sheet. It’s one thing to see a picture of it and it’s a completely different thing to see it.
We have 36 on the schedule for this week and will start operating tomorrow AM.
On January 12, 2010 at 4:53pm, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the capital city of Haiti, Port Au Prince, and surrounding areas. Within minutes, over 150,000 Haitians were killed. 1.5 million were displaced from their homes and over 3 million people were in sudden need of emergency aid. Haiti was already the poorest country in the western hemisphere with over 80% of the population living below the poverty line and most surviving on less than $2 per day. A lack of infrastructure and construction codes contributed to one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent history.
In December, 2009, I was lucky enough to be invited by Tom Flood to accompany his organization, Surgical Volunteers International, with the help of Smile Train on a mission trip to Port Au Prince to repair cleft lips and palates. On January 12th, our plans changed. Within days of the earthquake, Tom assembled a team of health care providers from all over the United States. They included a plastic surgeon from San Diego, an orthopedist from North Carolina and his wife, an RN, a CRNA from New York and another from Dallas, nurses from Seattle and Houston, one of whom is a native Haitian, Tom who is a retired OR nurse, a professional photographer and bodyguard, and myself. I am an anesthesiologist, 5 months from the conclusion of my residency training in Dallas and I had never experienced anything like this before.
Tom worked tirelessly to arrange travel for the 10 of us to Haiti. Though he has become extremely experienced and capable of coordinating trips to third world countries, I suspect this trip posed a new challenge. The Port Au Prince airport was closed to commercial travel. There was no electricity in the city and the few hotels with generator power that were still open were full. Taxis were not running, rental cars were out of the question and hospitals had few to no supplies or electricity. Despite these odds, Tom coordinated commercial flights for 10 people from every corner of the United States to Miami, most arriving within an hour of each other. We met at the airport and drove 2 hours north to Ft. Pierce, home to Missionary Flights International, an organization that flies groups on mission trips all over the world. Here, we boarded a donated charter plane and 2 hours later, we landed in Haiti. We were greeted at the airport by an American named Lance who has lived in Haiti for 30 years. His home and car were not damaged and in a selfless act to help contribute to the relief effort, Lance provided us with transportation, food and shelter.
It was late in the day when we arrived in Port Au Prince, and we only had time to drop supplies off at Bernard Mev hospital and begin to set up for the week. The facility is well known to Surgical Volunteers Int. They have used it in the past on cleft lip trips, but the scene we witnessed when we arrived was far from familiar. Rotary International had set up a dozen tents in the courtyard for patients to sleep in. These were all full of Haitians, most of whom had suffered severe trauma during the earthquake and were recovering from emergent amputations. Others had closed fractures and had been placed in traction until a more permanent treatment could be provided. Still others laid on mattresses, outside on the ground with a wide array of medical and surgical conditions. It was immediately clear to everyone that we had our work cut out for us.
Dr.’s Bloem and Peters made rounds of all of the patients and identified those who would benefit from surgery. Others were placed in temporary traction, or had their traction improved and revised. Charts were started on patients and medical histories obtained. The operating rooms were prepared. Tom, Young and Emily (our two phenomenal CRNAs) brought equipment to provide general anesthesia, regional anesthesia, sedation, post operative pain medication, antibiotics, surgical instruments, dressing supplies, sutures, and the list goes on. Supplies for hundreds of patients were neatly packed into a half dozen trunks and checked all the way from the United States. The organization this required was mind boggling, but these three carried out their tasks with remarkable ease and efficiency. Within an hour, 2 fully stocked operating rooms, a recovery room and supply area were established and Bernard Mev was ready for surgery.
During the first 2-3 days after the earthquake, thousands of Haitians had amputated limbs. The majority of these operations were done quickly, without anesthesia and by under or unqualified people. These heroic measures saved countless lives but by our arrival on day 10, wounds were becoming infected. Stumps were done in a way that would not accommodate prostheses or skin grafts and once again, thousands of patients needed surgery.
We began operating on day 2 and our surgeons worked tirelessly to help all of our patients. Wounds were debrided, stumps were closed, skin grafts were placed, and external fixation devices were placed on broken bones when possible. Our nurses, Kristi, Yvrose and Jacklyn changed hundreds of dressings. They worked harder than anyone in our group and knew every patient in the hospital backwards and forwards. They identified more people who would benefit from an operation, followed them all after surgery, administered medications, bathed them, changed bedding, delivered food and water, and perhaps most importantly, listened to their stories.
Throughout the city, there were hospitals and clinics set up by different relief organizations from all over the world. I met teams from France, Greece, Jamaica, Israel, the United States and others. The equipment and personnel at each facility differed greatly and for patients, it was difficult to know where to go. As the week went on, we noticed that word was spreading that Bernard Mev and its team of doctors and nurses was very well equipped. We had surgical capabilities, x-ray, medication, food for patients, and tents for them to sleep in. As patients were treated and discharged, more arrived. A nearby orphanage brought two severely dehydrated babies to the hospital to get IV fluids and medications. More than a dozen babies were born at the hospital during the week, including at set of twins that Tom helped deliver in the back of a truck outside the front gate. Two women were in active labor the night before our departure and the team stayed to help deliver their babies, both of whom were severely hypoxic and required resuscitation at the bedside
As I write this, I have been home for just 5 days but I have had some time to reflect on the experience. First and foremost, I am extremely sympathetic to the current situation in Haiti and the turmoil its people have endured. I was amazed to find smiles on the faces of our patients, many of whom had lost family members, friends, limbs, their homes and their way of life. I gained an appreciation for the ability of this culture to endure hardship. Not even this devastating earthquake that destroyed much of the country was able to rid them of their spirit. I am also tremendously grateful for the opportunity I had to work side by side a group of 9 incredible people. It was their selfless sense of sympathy and duty that brought this group together and I am humbled by their dedication to less fortunate. Finally, I am amazed by the outpouring of aid from all over the world and the generosity of people everywhere. Before January 12th, this tiny island country was little more than an afterthought to most but it suddenly found itself at the center of the world’s attention and with record speed and strength, the world responded.
I want to thank Tom Flood, Surgical Volunteers International, Smile Train and the wonderful members of this mission team that made this trip possible. It truly was a life changing, unforgettable experience