Submitted/KU Medical Center

A team of orthopeodic surgeons and anesthesiologists from the KU Medical Center traveled to Haiti shortly after the country's devastating earthquake to treat patients. Pictured from left are Ryan Peters, nurse anesthesiologist; Jennifer Morris Sarah, a nurse from Denver; Marty DeRuyter, associate professor of anesthesiology; and Chris Beck, assistant professor of anesthesiology.

Helping Haiti

KU Medical Center doctors, staff treat survivors in quake-ravaged country

Most surgeons would rather not improvise while performing an amputation or setting a broken leg.

But following Haiti’s devastating earthquake, a lack of resources, equipment and organization forced a team of KU Medical Center volunteers to get creative. The team of volunteers arrived in Haiti two weeks after the quake, and spent two weeks helping patients in less than ideal conditions.

Bruce Toby, chair of the Department of Orthopeodic Surgery, led a team of volunteers from the KU Medical Center and KU Hospital who took vacation and paid their own way to get to Haiti. The team included doctors David Anderson, Marty DeRuyter and Chris Beck, nurse anesthesiologists Ryan Peters and Julie Jensen, nurses Lisa Elm, France Ordeus and Cheryl Scott and Kansas City orthopedist Ganesh Gupta.

They worked in a clinic and orphanage on the border of the Dominican Republic, about 30 miles from Port-Au-Prince, near the epicenter of the quake. Before the earthquake, the clinic was seldom used.

Submitted/KU Medical Center

Beck and DeRuyter discuss a case while volunteering in a field clinic in Haiti. The two were part of a team that treated numerous crush injuries and bone fractures after Haiti's devastating earthquake.

“With this disaster, they just filled up overnight,” Toby said. “They had really nothing to start with. What was brought in, in terms of equipment, was thanks to the people.”

Using largely donated equipment and instruments, the team joined a group of doctors from New York operating on about 20 patients a day. The victims had suffered crush injuries and fractures and many had severely infected limbs. They gave patients casts, set and placed pins and screws in broken bones and amputated limbs.

“The Haitian quake was a unique situation because there were just so many crush injuries,” Toby said. “It’s something we’ve never seen before.”

The team started at dawn and worked until sundown. They often couldn’t work past dark because power was unreliable. Numerous factors exacerbated the challenges the team faced. Organization at the clinic was almost nonexistent when the team arrived, as there was no discernible chain of command.

Complicating matters further, the language barrier made it difficult to communicate with patients. French translators were on hand, but Haitians speak a mix of French and Creole. Haitian society is largely illiterate as well, which made many patients and family members unable to fill out paperwork. Many people moved around to make room for incoming patients without telling doctors. Sanitation was almost non existent.

The team did find ways to get around many of the obstacles, such as using available wood to build a table for patients to lie on during X-rays.

“There were some very ingenious things being done in less than ideal conditions,” Toby said.

Being surrounded by pain and suffering made the work difficult, but seeing the tireless efforts of volunteers from around the country helped.

“It’s very rewarding to see there are so many wonderful people out there,” Toby said. “It gave me an appreciation of living in this great country. We have so many luxuries, and a stable government. There are just so many things we take for granted.”

All of the KU volunteers are back in the states following their two-week stint, but Haitians will face a long recovery. Toby said one of the biggest medical challenges in many Haitians’ futures will be securing prosthetics. A large number of the patients would be candidates for prosthetics, but overwhelming poverty and lingering damage from the quake will make delivery to people who need them challenging.

Though the team made the trip on short notice, medical center administrators were supportive of faculty and staff members taking time to help.

“It fills me with such pride that a team from KU Medical Center gave up their vacations, made their way to Haiti at their own expense and contributed their time and skills to help as many people as possible,” said Barbara Atkinson, vice chancellor for the KU Medical Center.

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Amanda Schwegler, assistant director, Center for Service Learning
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