Medical Center Volunteers Continue to Aid Haiti

haiti update camp
The camp of tents where Medical Center volunteers continue to help patients injured in the January 12 earthquake.

Photo by Ari Hoffman, University of California - San Francisco

By Allison Horton

The Medical Center’s Haiti relief efforts continue to expand as more medical teams arrive there. The first team of volunteers returned February 8, after providing medical care for two weeks in a hospital camp in Fond Parisien, which is near the border of the Dominican Republic. A second wave of 22 volunteers, also set to stay two weeks, included emergency medical and orthopaedic physicians, nurses, physical therapists and a pharmacist. They arrived by February 11 and were divided among sites in Fond Parisien, Santo Domingo and Port-au-Prince.

Another team with nine members, including nurses, a Medical Center journalist and a Haiti Creole medical interpreter, left February 21 for Fond Parisien. One of the team members is Nicole Muse, RN, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse who is originally from Haiti and was part of the first Medical Center team deployment.

The Medical Center has donated two ultrasounds and a portable X-ray machine, as well as medication and other supplies. Philips Medical contributed two mobile “C-arms” X-ray imaging systems. The medical teams brought 500 pairs of crutches, wheelchairs, supplies and more antibiotics. They also purchased for the staff to travel between Fond Parisien and the medical clinic in Port-au-Prince.

First Medical Center Team Paves the Way

Richard Cook, MD, associate professor of anesthesia and critical care, went with the first medical team and recently returned from Fond Parisien. The team attended patients that needed follow-up care for surgical procedures, such as amputations, and provided treatment for crush injuries. Patients also received care for malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, dysentery, malnutrition and dehydration. They also supplied tetanus and measles inoculations to patients.

Rex Haydon, MD, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitative medicine, and also a member of the first team, initially had to diagnose patients without the aid of an X-ray machine, EKG, clinical lab or chemistries, Cook said.

“Those technologies tell you things that your senses can tell,” Cook said. “Not as accurately, quickly, and precisely, but clinicians with a lot of experience can tell when someone is anemic or dehydrated or when bones aren’t aligned or wounds are infected.”

Cook credited Muse and Elvire LaPlanche, RN, a Haitian nurse from South Shore Hospital who traveled with the first team, as being the “backbone of the operation,” noting their patience, hard work, and their ability to communicate with the Haitian people and the medical staff. “They were the greatest contribution we were able to make to the medical care of the people in the camp,” he said. “Without them it is impossible to imagine what it would have been like. They were our ace in the hole.”

Pharmacist Dima Awad, PharmD, who is fluent in French, organized the creation of a pharmacy with the help of Haitian carpenters to construct shelves, tabletops and counters. The finished product was comparable to a pharmacy found in a modern hospital, Cook said. Before her arrival, the pharmacy consisted of a room with boxes of drugs. “By the time we left, we had a pharmacy that could prepare intravenous injections and drips to order,” Cook said. “We could prepare and deliver specific types of drugs in specific amounts.” Haitians are now being trained as pharmacy technicians so the pharmacy can be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Cook said.

Besides medical care, Haiti will need food, water, reconstructive aid, education and a social system capable of taking care of the homeless, elderly and orphaned children, Cook said. “They are remarkably resilient and incredibly stoic about what they’ve experienced,” he added. “I have no doubt that they will continue to survive and prevail.”

Read updates on the Science Life blog and see photos of our team on the Haiti Relief blog.