Doing a world of good during Haiti's crisis

April 19, 2010 —

On Jan. 12, a 7.0 earthquake devastated the tiny island country of Haiti, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. DMU alumni and students were among those who responded to the dire need for assistance. Here, we share some of their stories. If you were there, please share your story in the comments below.

Carrie Gosselink, D.P.M.’07
Went to a hospital in Milot, 75 miles north of Port-Au-Prince, with the University of Florida and Shands (where she is a resident) and CRUDEM, a health care outreach organization based in Milot.

On her week-long trip to Haiti – her third to the country – Carrie Gosselink spent 90 percent of her 16-hour days in an operating or procedure room at Hospital Sacre Coeur. She estimates she worked on about 40 cases during the week. She lost count of how many transmetatarsal amputations and ray re-sections she did.

She also operated on two ankles and an open lisfranc fracture. There were many wound and post-op infections to treat, too. Some of the biggest challenges Gosselink and her colleagues faced were language barriers and a lack of equipment like a C-arm in the operating room, negative pressure units and ventilators. The fact that some children arrived at the hospital without their parents presented issues. Also, amid the chaos, she says even finding patients she had triaged was logistically difficult.“The people of Haiti are almost universally endowed with a strength and quality of character that I rarely see in my daily work,” Gosselink says. “Many have endured great pain, loss and tragedy with heroic stoicism, and it is deeply rewarding to help when the need is so great.”

Brenda McGraw, M.H.A.’11
Went to Port-Au-Prince as a supervisory nurse specialist with the Federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

By day, Brenda McGraw is an R.N. and emergency management coordinator at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 3, she did outreach and community assessment as well as helped pediatric patients in Haiti. She provided follow-up care to many patients whose acute injuries had been treated. Her team saw injuries from falling debris, malnutrition, dehydration and fevers in infants they suspected were from malaria.

McGraw’s tips for getting involved in global health:

  • Check into the local, state and federal programs available or non-government organizations that may be seeking additional medical professionals. Working to help others in need provides a rewarding feeling as well as critically needed care. (Editor’s note: Visit www.dmu.edu/globalhealth for ideas and information.)
  • Do not go into any disaster situation to help “on your own.” Stick with a well-known, wellorganized group that plans ahead and is familiar with the country’s geography, customs, health risks, etc. Members of “rogue” groups become a burden on the system and place their safety and careers at risk.

Karl Disque, R.Ph., D.O.’07
Went to Port-Au-Prince for 10 days as part of a 20-member medical team from Rush University Medical Center.

“When you see these things happen, it really reveals character. Do you show compassion and love when you are tired, dirty, uncomfortable, unable to communicate and have no external gain? It is remarkable how many people here can say ‘yes’ to that. Not only the people I see that volunteer, but especially those who suffered terrific losses.” —Karl Disque, R.Ph., D.O.’07

A member of the Rush anesthesia team in Chicago, Karl Disque and his colleagues worked in Haiti to help with fractures, crush injuries, skin and wound care and a few emergency C-sections and general surgery emergencies. He provided care at CDTI, Adventis and General hospitals. The team treated up to 1,000 patients a day in the hospitals, refugee camps and makeshift clinics in tent cities. Professionally, he says the trip tested his troubleshooting abilities. Running out of wall oxygen during a case, working through power outages, and using just spinal anesthesia for a large open ischemic bowel and small bowel obstruction were just a few things that challenged him to be creative.

Rick Colwell, D.O.’03
Went to Port-Au-Prince through the Islamic Medical Association of North America.

As an emergency room attending at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in Sioux City, IA, Rick Colwell is used to acting quickly. But as an experienced disaster relief traveler, he knew helping in Haiti the last week in January wouldn’t be easy.

This was Colwell’s third disaster relief trip; he also helped in Pakistan after an earthquake there in 2005 and in the Middle East’s Gaza Strip last year.

Colwell says helping in a disaster zone means a person often has to “wing it” and use whatever is available to improvise. In Haiti his team built a nebulizer machine out of an inhaler and a water bottle to aid a child in asthmatic crisis. As part of the IMANA group, he helped set up a hospital in an abandoned amusement park. He and his fellow volunteers provided a lot of primary care, such as treating urinary infections, hypertension, malaria, asthma and colds as well as providing wound care, casting and amputations.


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