Helping Haitians Recover From Catastrophe

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Left to right: Members of the first team to Haiti include orthopaedic surgeon Rex Haydon, MD; Elvire LaPlanche, RN, an intensive care unit nurse from South Shore Hospital; Richard Cook, MD, chief medical officer and anesthesiologist; Nicole Muse, RN, neonatal intensive care nurse at the Medical Center; and Christian Theodosis, MD, team leader and emergency medical specialist. Both nurses are from Haiti and speak fluent French and Haitian Creole.

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Plane departing from Midway Airport on January 25, transporting the first Medical Center team to Haiti.
By Allison Horton

Only hours after arriving in Haiti, three University of Chicago Medical Center physicians and two nurses were treating bus loads of injured Haitians at a hospital in the small town of Fond Parisien, near the border of Dominican Republic.

“Just finished getting crushed: 67 patients on three buses, after dark,” texted team leader, Christian Theodosis, MD, and Medical Center emergency medicine specialist. “Conditions quite intense, quite rough. Running short on tents, short on hands. Several generators now, security intact. Many, quite vulnerable people. Hungry and tired.”

The next day the team set up a temporary operating room. Besides Theodosis, the Medical Center team includes two nurses of Haitian descent who speak fluent French and Haitian Creole, an anesthesiologist and an orthopedic surgeon. They flew out on a chartered plane from Midway Airport arriving January 26 at noon with 1,100 pounds of medical, surgical and pharmaceutical supplies. The plane was chartered and paid for by Terry Holt of Kenilworth, Ill.

“Our goal is to make some improvement in the lives of Haitians injured and displaced by the earthquake,” said anesthesiologist Richard Cook, MD. The Medical Center provided anesthetic agents, pain medications, antibiotics and IV supplies to treat dehydration.

The medical team reports that camp security — established by Partners in Health, a Boston-based nonprofit with more than 20 years experience in Haiti — is excellent. There are currently 220 patients at the hospital, many of them amputees, unaccompanied children and patients who have lost family members. The medical team expects this number to grow, as many patients are now homeless and will be difficult to discharge.

The current team will serve for two weeks and be gradually replaced by additional teams also from the Medical Center. Dima Awad, PharmD, a Medical Center pharmacist, left for Fond Parisien on January 30, with more supplies such as tents, light bulbs, electric cords, granola bars and vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella. While there are not any reported measles cases yet, physicians fear a measles outbreak in a refugee camp could be devastating. Another team was sent on February 6th, and a third team will leave on February 11th. Members of the next teams to deploy are currently being selected and vaccinated.

More than 100 volunteers stepped up for the opportunity to help. But the relief agencies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic had very specific requests for personnel and medical supplies.

The Medical Center worked with nongovernmental agencies on the ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to assess exactly what the needs were and select the first team accordingly. The Medical Center’s chief operating officer, Carolyn Wilson, RN, and associate dean for Global Health, Olufunmilayo Olopade, MD, FACP, allocated the resources.

“We may not be able to do everything for everyone,” Cook said. “But we can do a lot for many.”