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Stanford medical team travels to Haiti to assist in relief effort

- By Sara Wykes

Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer (Raleigh, NCHaiti

Paul Auerbach carries a young boy on his shoulders to a surgery clinic where the boy's hand will be treated.

A seven-person team of Stanford Hospital & Clinics physicians and nurse has been working since Jan. 16 in Haiti, tending to victims of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country four days earlier.

The team began mobilizing the day after the Jan. 12 quake and within 36 hours of its first meeting had collected supplies and departed. In one duffle bag and one shoulder bag each, the team carried supplies valued at $18,000, most of it donated by Stanford Hospital & Clinics, though others also contributed money and supplies to the effort.  After a journey that lasted roughly 48 hours, they arrived in Port-au-Prince and were soon immersed in providing emergency medical care.

“Today was a blur because we were pushing so hard,” Anil Menon, MD, a hospital physician and medical school instructor, wrote in a text message to a friend on Jan. 19, three days after their arrival. He reported that the “vast majority of injuries” they were seeing involved “delayed treatment of huge lacerations and fractures.”

In a series of messages, Menon described his sadness at not being able to do more. “So many people tug at your arm, need an immediate response,” he wrote, adding that he was frustrated by “only being able to answer a few.”

The team is being led by Robert Norris, MD, chief of the Division of Emergency Medicine. All the clinicians are emergency medicine specialists.

Norris and his colleagues left from Stanford well-prepared to begin providing services from the moment they arrived in Haiti. “What we want to do is start treating patients,” he said in an interview before they departed.

"A lot of what we will do is general health care, but we expect to treat broken bones, crush injuries, fever, dehydration and some of the emotional issues,” said Norris, who is also a professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine. “We’re taking a portable ultrasound so we’ll be able to diagnose internal abdominal injuries, but we won’t be able to do advanced medicine.”

The Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 22 about the work that Norris was doing:

“As the flow of help increased, doctors scrambled to take care of the thousands of injured Haitians who have overwhelmed clinics and field hospitals.

“At the busy downtown General Hospital, Dr. Bob Norris worked in the blazing sun, getting seriously injured patients transported to a landing pad at the presidential palace for transfer to the Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital ship anchored offshore.

“‘That's 40 out the door so far. You guys are rockin',’ Norris told Army 1st Sgt. Brian Knight, 33, whose crew of soldiers loaded military ambulances.

Norris has worked in Iraq and India as a volunteer. He also has taken a weeklong course in rubble pile medicine, the special care of people injured in building collapses.

In addition to Norris and Menon, the team includes physicians Ian Brown, MD, and Paul Auerbach, MD, former chief of emergency medicine and medical relief volunteer in Guatamala and Nepal. In 2008, the American College of Emergency Physicians gave him their Hero award.

The SHC nurses are Gaby McAdoo, Heather Tilson and Julie Rachioppi, and Jonathan Gardner, who previously worked at the hospital.

The team will work as part of the larger International Medical Corps group.The IMC already had four doctors in Haiti, as of Jan. 14, and at that time had plans to bring in at least 13 more. The Stanford contingent was the largest team from a single source in that initial deployment.

“We are very proud of our team who are stepping outside their normal routines to provide care to the most needy,” said Nancy Lee, the hospital’s vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. “The dedication of our staff and faculty always shines the brightest when the world seems most dark.”

The team arrived in Haiti with antibiotics, splints, thermometers, tongue depressors, scalpels, sutures, swabs, medication to treat pain and asthma, and much more. They were taken by a chartered plane and were permitted one medium and one large duffle bag, packed to full on Jan. 14 by volunteers from the hospital. In the interview before the team left, Norris said he would also take a hard hat and work gloves, and a special set of lightweight scrubs that have lots of pockets. The temperature in Haiti is hovering in the 90s.

The IMC team has set up its own emergency room and was also working at the General Hospital. According to Menon, half of the group was staying on the floor of a conference room at the Villa Creole, a hotel in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The other half was in tents on the floor of an abandoned building.

Menon described the scope of the tragedy they saw upon arriving in a text he sent on Jan. 16. “The rubble of Port-au-Prince was strewn with injured people, in even worse condition on Day 5,” he wrote. “The smell of bodies was everywhere and unforgettable. People with broken limbs were so numb they don't cry.”

The team expects to stay in Haiti for three weeks. Menon sent the messages to a friend, Baratunde Thurston.

Anyone who wishes to support the physicians and nurses in their relief work in Haiti may send gifts payable to Stanford Hospital & Clinics (Attention: Stanford Hospital Haiti Relief Fund), c/o Office of Hospital Development, 145A El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA, 94025, or may contact Ema Williams, manager of finance and administration, Office of Hospital Development, at (650) 721-2460 or ewillia2@stanford.edu.


Sara Wykes is a writer for the Stanford Hospital & Clinics communications office.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

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