Thursday, December 27, 2012

Haiti December 2012

Once again we take to the skies in a well worn American Airlines 767 with a petulant flight crew and crowded cabin. We lift above the grinding poverty of PAP.  Sitting beside me is a Haitian man on his first trip to America and first time on an airplane.  The flight attendant serves him a cold drink and he looks at me with a smile on his face and says “I think I have left Haiti”.  I wonder - will life be easier?  More comfortable?  Happier?    As we touch down in the United States I contemplate these questions even more as we look out at the flags flying half mast - thankful to be blessed with a belief system that makes me feel humbled, privileged to serve and rich in peace.  This is why we go…

Chadme in recovery room
Chadme is a 17 year old girl who had such severe knock knees (genu valgum) that she has been forced to walk on all fours most of her life.  This was caused by rickets a problem related to vitamin D deficiency.  Last year Dr. John Herzenberg an internationally renowned limb deformity surgeon from Baltimore performed two separate reconstructive operations  at Haiti Adventist Hospital to correct her leg deformities.  On this trip we had the privilege of removing her last fixator.  In the recovery room she was tearful and called me down to give me a hug and thank us for changing her life.  She can now go to school for the first time and learn how to read.  This is why we go…

On my trip home I gave a presentation at the AAOS Disaster Relief Course in South Florida.  One of the other lecturers spoke about the phases of disaster response which concludes with the exit phase.  In many ways this is the most difficult phase – how do you shut down a hospital full of people?  I felt thankful that in the Haiti disaster response we have not had to answer that question nor do we intend to.  Speakers raised questions about how patients get follow up care after having major orthopaedic operations in a disaster – another difficult question for many.  We did not stop to ask that question in Haiti, we just keep working.  It was a privilege to represent Loma Linda University at this course, a school founded more than 100 years ago for the explicit purpose of training physicians to work in underserved and austere environments.  And even though big challenges remain in Haiti I am grateful for the institutional support as well as the generous support of donors and volunteers that have made this continued effort a reality.  These successes do not come without significant sacrifice.  Especially sacrifices by people such as Terry and Jeannie Dietrich who really helped stabilize this program by giving a year of their time, as well as Dr. Francel Alexis the current chief of orthopaedics at HAH who makes short term trips and complex operations a reality for those of us who cannot be there full time.

Sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming, but after seeing the results of bringing world class surgeons such as John Herzenberg into the lives of patients like Chadme, the joy and blessings brought on by this effort are even more overwhelming.  This past week we treated another patient with a similar deformity hardly able to walk, we did a hip fusion in a man with an untreated, painful acetabular fracture who raised his hands in joy as we scheduled his operation, we treated a man transferred from Albert Schweitzer hospital with a cervical spine facet dislocation who will continue to have full use of both arms and legs, we straightened knee contractures and operated on clubfeet.  The list goes on…  Without this hospital the majority of these patients would have no other options, leaving them with lives of disability.  It was a privilege to have Dr. Rob Quigley a 3rd year resident and Dr. Joseph Hahn a 4th year resident accompany me on this trip.  Many cases presented that they had never before seen in their training.  Not only are these operations life changing for the patients but these experiences are defining moments in the careers of many of us involved.  These are sacred events helping us to become better surgeons and better people. 
Fanfan - a new patient with rickets similar to Chadme
After placing external fixators to perform a gradual correction

May the Lord Bless you in this holiday season.