[February 2010] A team of Yale School of Medicine and Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) medical professionals saw 400 patients in six days before returning from a mission to Haiti recently. They did their best to help in the face of rampant devastation, and said they were rewarded with many grateful smiles and hugs.
A member of Yale's team cares for a patient in the hospital in Hinche.
They also saw lots of heartbreak, and were especially struck by the blank faces of people who’d lost children, parents and homes, and seemed beyond tears.
“It breaks your heart to see the tragedy these people are living. One of my patients lost three of her daughters,” said the team’s leader, Gregory Luke Larkin, MD, a Yale Medical Group emergency physician.
A team including an anesthesiologist, an orthopaedic surgeon and others spent six days in Hinche, a poverty-stricken rural city in the countryside 90 miles north of Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of thousands of people are being sent for medical treatment. The team landed in a rocky dirt field after their plane made several passes as it waited for children, dogs, pigs and other livestock to move out of the way so they could land. They brought their own food and water, and $12,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies donated by Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Yale’s team in Haiti, photographed with a local priest, included (l-r) Thomas Kimberly, APRN; Nousheh Saidi, MD; the Rev. Rick Frechette, MD, Port-au-Prince; Gregory Luke Larkin, MD; Donald MacMillan, PA; Peter Boone, MD, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Bridgeport; and Ralph Jean-Mary. Dirk Johnson, MD, a Yale Medical Group trauma surgeon, is not pictured.
Joining forces with Partners in Health, a Boston-based organization, the team went to work immediately at Hôpital Sainte Thérèse de Hinche, which they described as understaffed and less than hygienic. “We were pulled in many directions,” said Larkin, who quickly found that many patients had such underlying illnesses as typhoid and malaria. They came in with fractures and burns, and “crushing” leg, arm and head injuries, and acute injuries that had festered after days without treatment. Larkin recalled one patient whose shoulder had been dislocated so long it was almost “frozen” in place. Other patients had wounds that had become so infected that the only option was a drastic amputation.
Nousheh Saidi, MD, a Yale Medical Group anesthesiologist, described sending a 6-year-old girl from emergency surgery to an intensive care unit without oxygen or monitors. “I lost sleep that night. I worried if I would see her in the morning or if I would see an empty bed,” Saidi said. The girl survived.
“Everyone just went in and rolled up their sleeves, and did the best they could,” said Ralph Jean-Mary, business manager for the YNHH emergency department and a native of Haiti, who put up the team at a hotel run by his parents. He said his family had called him after the earthquake to assure him that they were OK.
The massive crisis caused by the earthquake may have taken as many as 200,000 lives, and left many more people injured. David J. Leffell, MD, deputy dean for clinical affairs, Yale School of Medicine, said, “We had a broad range of talented medical people who were eager to help. But we also know the problem in Haiti isn’t going to be fixed in a few months, it could take a decade to rebuild. So while we try to provide immediate help for survivors, together with other parts of the university, we are looking at other ways to contribute over the long term.”
In other efforts, YNHH, the New Haven chapter of the NAACP and other community organizations in New Haven created a fund that the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven will administer for relief and reconstruction in Haiti.
Photos by Donald MacMillan and Nousheh Saidi
Yale School of Medicine is providing medical relief workers planning trips to Haiti with small English-Creole medical dictionaries.
The light, pocket-sized book provides basic Creole medical terms and phrases, names of body parts, basic grammar/vocabulary and numbers, all geared toward medical work in Haiti.
Many Yale Medical Group physicians and staff are reaching out to earthquake victims by supporting relief organizations.
If you’re interested in donating, they’ve learned that the following organizations have a presence in Haiti and can channel donations effectively:
For members of the Yale community who would like to share information, suggestions and thoughts about our efforts to assist the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, join the Yale Haiti Relief Facebook group.