Hôpital Albert Schweitzer Haiti

Saving Lives, Changing Lives

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday morning is usually rather calm in the pediatric and adult wards at the hospital: Few urgent cases, pediatricians, internists and surgeons doing rounds quietly and visiting all their patients, walking from bed to bed, talking with patients and parents, explaining, calming. Not so today: Six orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons and anesthesia doctors from Atlanta were busy checking all surgical patients, X-Rays and medical histories, planning upcoming treatment and operations. They are the second orthopedic team from the well known and renowned Peachtree Clinic in Atlanta coming down to HAS since the earthquake and doing hundreds of difficult orthopedic operations for our victims. They are operating simultaneously in all three operating theatres. Peachtree Orthopedic Clinic, founded by Dr. Bob Wells, former Chair of our Board and lifelong volunteering orthopedic surgeon in Haiti, has a more than 50 year tradition of sending high skill orthopedic surgical teams to HAS. Following the first Peachtree team, a highly efficient nine member team from Sherbrooke University hospital in Canada, consisting of OR nurses, orthopedic surgeons and anesthesia doctors filled the gap between the two Peachtree teams.

 All three teams were not only very professional but created an excellent working atmosphere together with our Haitian physicians, nurses and technicians, in the OR as well as in the wards. HAS which utilizes our high tech C-Arm (fluoroscopy controlled reposition of fractures) has been able to perform difficult operations of open and closed fractures, unlike at some other small hospitals or field clinics, where often only preliminary interventions could be done, exposing patients to secondary operations or even infections or consolidation in false positions.

One week after the quake we ran out of strong pain relief medications and antibiotics. It was an incredibly hard day for our patients, many with severe fractures, which had not yet been operated on. We walked from bed to bed, from mattress to mattress on the floors, talking, trying to console our patients, ending up with a deep admiration for our patient victims, the real heroes of this drama, and their supportive and caring relatives….By the end of the evening the first medical shipment arrived and we were able to do much more than console. I never in my life have been waiting so anxiously for the arrival of a medical supply delivery. Since this crisis we have received tons of medical, surgical and laboratory supply by planes and large trucks, from US, Canada and Switzerland. Every shipment has been a big relief to all of us. We still will need more, but apparently the hardest time is past.

Looking back more than three weeks after the catastrophe, I feel a strong sentiment of immense and deep gratitude; first of all for our very competent and persistent Haitian Medical, Nursing and Technical staff at HAS, who were alone managing the incredible workload during the first days and thereafter, handling 66% of all victims without foreign help! I am grateful as well for all the volunteer doctors and nurses, rushing from many countries to help Haiti in this incredible tragedy. We still have a list of over 60 volunteer doctors and nurses ready to join us immediately. Due to limited ORs we only could take a few volutnteers with special skills that could be utilized for the immediate treatment of our patients. For those very well meaning volunteers that we could not accommodate, please forgive us. I am sure there will be a time we will need your help in many ways. Haiti and HAS have great support currently, but this support needs to go on!

HAS has an obligation towards the victims, not only now but for a the long term. First estimates show that hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Port-au-Prince area will settle in the Artibonite Valley and the Haitian government will prevent them from returning to the capital for good reasons. Support of HAS will be necessary for many years. So, we ask that you please help us and our wonderful patients!

Rolf Maibach, Medical Director