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 CNS Story:

HAITI-EVACUATE (UPDATED) Feb-2-2010 (770 words) With photos posted Feb. 1. xxxi

Foreign doctors help Haitian staff in what remains of hospital


Loraus Bernaud, 27, who is paralyzed from the waist down, lies in a bed outside St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince Jan. 31, more than two weeks after being seriously injured in the earthquake that struck Haiti. He needs specialized care that cannot be provided in Haiti but is routinely available at U.S. hospitals. (CNS/Bob Roller)

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNS) -- In what remains of St. Francis de Sales Hospital, the doctors work under a pall of death.

Even as teams of foreign doctors met with Haitian staffers to develop treatment plans and organize medical supplies in late January, up to 100 bodies remained in the collapsed three-story pediatrics and obstetrics wing.

The hospital staff knows there were at least 25 child patients in the wing and a similar number of family members at their sides when the building tumbled during the magnitude 7 earthquake Jan. 12. Staff members make up the rest of the list of victims.

Located a few blocks from the destroyed presidential palace, the hospital had few remaining functions operating in late January. The staff was depending on experts from around the world to help them treat earthquake victims.

Teams of trauma specialists from Belgium, Germany, Poland, Japan and the U.S. rotated in and out of the hospital in the weeks following the earthquake. Doctors from the University of Maryland Medical Center and Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego began working with patients Jan. 30 in conditions they said were hardly adequate for victims with nonlife-threatening injuries, let alone the seriously injured.

Jean Marie Danielle, 19, and Loraus Bernaud, 27, suffered severe spinal cord injuries during the earthquake. Dr. Edgar Gamboa, one of a team of trauma specialists from Scripps Mercy Hospital, told Catholic News Service the two are paralyzed from the waist down, and the specialized care they need cannot be provided in Haiti, but is routinely available in the U.S.

Speaking from beside Danielle's bed in a tent set up outside the hospital, Gamboa said he had been frustrated while trying to find a way to airlift the two young victims to an American hospital.

"So far we've really just hit a brick wall," he said Jan. 30.

During a five-day suspension of medical evacuations from Haiti to the United States, doctors around Port-au-Prince insisted that the inability to evacuate paralyzed Haitians posed serious obstacles to saving the patients' lives. The flights resumed Feb. 1, and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said an earlier letter he wrote saying the state's health care system was reaching the saturation point had been misunderstood.

Working in cooperation with Haitian colleagues, Gamboa was looking for a private donor to fly Danielle and Bernaud to an American hospital in Florida or elsewhere.

"We don't have the resources here to stabilize her (back) fracture," Gamboa said. "We don't even have the resources to rehabilitate her quickly, even get her up or moving. If she stays like this (without moving in bed) it almost guarantees she'll develop pneumonia or a urinary infection. Or she'll develop bedsores and she'll die from sepsis," a severe illness in which the bloodstream is overwhelmed by bacteria.

"She may not recover neurologically, but if we can get her out of here we can stabilize her and she can survive," said Gamboa, who belongs to Queen of Angels Parish in Alpine, Calif., and St. Mary's Parish in El Centro, Calif.

Bernaud, a civil engineering student, lies on his stomach around the clock, only able to move his head from side to side and move his arms. An infection has developed in a large lower back wound caused when a chunk of concrete fell on him as he tried to escape his home. The infection could spread to his spinal cord, dooming him, Gamboa said.

Dr. Thomas Scalea, a Catholic, heads the University of Maryland Medical Center's shock trauma unit, the busiest in the U.S. He led a team to aid earthquake victims in China in 2008 and told CNS as he made rounds at St. Francis de Sales Jan. 30 that his team is limited by a lack of supplies and trained medical staff.

His team's presence was part of a joint initiative by the University of Maryland and the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services to lay the groundwork for a long-term emergency response at the hospital. CRS has a history of working at St. Francis de Sales because the hospital has been used by the AIDSRelief consortium -- of which CRS is a member -- to treat patients with HIV.

Since the earthquake not all news at the hospital has been bad.

Jean Louis Joseph, 44, suffered a crushed right foot. Working in a primitive conditions, doctors amputated part of his foot and expect him to make a full recovery.

Letour Kadner Jean, 38, a computer systems manager at a local bank, suffered a crushed right leg. Although the wounds he sustained will take a long time to heal, Gamboa said he will be fine.

END


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