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 CNS Story:

HAITI-AMBULANCE Feb-5-2010 (910 words) With photos. xxxi

Ambulance crew seeks Haitians who can't get to hospital

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

SARTHE, Haiti (CNS) -- There's no high-tech telemetry unit or interior lights on the ambulance based at St. Camillus Hospital.

In place of such equipment that is standard in almost every American ambulance is a crew with basic medical supplies and a desire to make sure the most seriously injured victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake get the care they need.

For the last two weeks a crew consisting of a doctor, an emergency room technician, a translator and a driver has taken the 2003 four-wheel drive Toyota Land Rover with a broken odometer into neighborhoods and outlying areas of Sarthe and Croix des Bouquets, east of the Haitian capital. The foursome cruises the streets and countryside two or three days a week looking for people who cannot make it to the Camillian-operated hospital in Sarthe.

"When this all happened, when we went out, we didn't know what we were going to find," said Camillian Father Scott Binet, 46, international coordinator of the Servants of St. Camillus Disaster Relief Services. Father Binet, a physician, is usually the doctor on the ambulance.

Initially, Father Binet said, the crew found people with untreated fractures, deep cuts and serious head wounds. Many were taken to the hospital. After several weeks, things had settled down noticeably.

Patrick Tomeny III, a medical student at the University of South Florida and an emergency room technician at University Community Hospital in Tampa, Fla., has been on each tour with the ambulance. A member of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Clearwater, Fla., Tomeny prepares the ambulance for each trip, ensuring that there are plenty of supplies for whatever the team might encounter.

"We're still looking for fractures and people who need to be hospitalized and bring them back," he said.

The crew limits help to people with serious injuries or whose injuries could develop into something serious.

"We found out early that if we started talking about basic medical problems we would be mobbed," Father Binet said.

On rounds Feb. 4, the crew came across nothing more serious than several women with open wounds. Treating such injuries is important so that infection does not set in, especially in an environment where clean water is difficult to find and dust and dirt are everywhere, Father Binet said.

As the ambulance crew traveled the streets Feb. 4, translator Erinese St. Jean called out to people on street corners or gathered in front of fruit-and-juice stands, asking them if they knew of anyone who was injured and needed care. Most people said no; everyone they knew was doing fine now.

At one stop, however, several people asked for help. One women had an open wound on her left ankle. Tomeny handled her with ease, applying an antiseptic solution and bandaging her cut carefully.

Noticing one middle-age women's swollen right knee and foot, Father Binet flexed her leg to determine if the swelling was caused by a broken bone. The women's leg moved, so he checked the leg for motion, decided it was just a contusion and told her she would be fine in a few days. She seemed satisfied with the response.

"We're in this weird business," Father Binet said. "We're saying we want to find people with serious injuries and want to help them. But if we don't find them, in a certain sense we're happy about that."

At St. Camillus Hospital, Father Binet is one of several Camillian priests and sisters who arrived in Haiti within days of the earthquake to assist in treating the most seriously injured. Priests and brothers from the order, who often wear a bright red cross on their chest, came from Italy, and a sister came from Brazil. A Camillian priest from Burkina Faso already was in Haiti working as the hospital chaplain. He helps patients and their families deal with the aftermath of the disaster.

Lay people from Italy also have joined the hospital staff as volunteers.

Father Binet was in the Philippines aiding in recovery from Typhoon Ketsana when the Haitian earthquake occurred. He arrived in Haiti nine days after the magnitude 7 jolt.

St. Camillus Hospital is located in a rural area where the din of urban life is silenced. With nearly 90 patients under care on any given day, the hospital is an oasis in the confusion that reigns because of the earthquake.

The hospital has received 10 young patients -- all amputees -- from medical ships, including the USNS Comfort, anchored off Port-au-Prince. Received under a cooperative agreement with neighboring St. Damien Children's Hospital in Tabarre, the patients are in the post-operative stage of recovery and will remain at St. Camillus until they can return home.

Father Binet said more are on the way. He said about 700 people are ready to be released from the offshore ships, and more beds are needed in the country. He said the Camillian disaster services program is planning to add a field hospital on the hospital grounds to accept more patients.

"Our plan is to take care of them in St. Camillus, follow them and eventually have a rehabilitation facility," he said.

The hospital also treats up to 400 people daily on an outpatient basis.

"Everyone is an earthquake victim one way or anther," Father Binet said. "Health problems are related to the earthquake. But also people have lost their homes. They've lost a friend or family member. They've lost their job. We have people who have suffered in different ways."

END


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