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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Letter From Tom's New Best Friend from Haiti

This is a missive from Tom's new best friend from Haiti, Ross Isaacs. Ross was a top liver transplant specialist but now practices internal medicine in rural Virginia.

"Just arrived safely back in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. I spent the bulk of last week working in an orphanage that we turned into a hospital, right down the road from the real hospital where the surgeons did nonstop surgery. Saw lots of ortho trauma, neuro and spine trauma, open wounds, burns, blunt and open trauma to chests, abdomens, pelvises and extremities, crush injuries to just about every part of the body. I witnessed the despair of families split apart searching among the wounded for each other, etc. We put in 12-14 hour days and shifts. Teams from all over the world converged at our clinic and hospital which was right on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Yesterday we evacuated four patients in two ambulances - I was in one of them and an ob-gyn was in the other - to a hospital on the Dominican coast. They will make it, I hope...

It was a bumpy three hour ride for only 70 miles, but it felt even longer for the patients. All we had on board was a small supply of morphine and water to wash them down as the ambulances were not air conditioned and we were sitting by their sides. Although we spoke different languages, when we arrived they looked at us with appreciation even though I could not imagine a ride like that, let alone laying that way for days waiting for transport out. We were able to helicopter two kids out, one with a depressed skull fracture and one with an orbital fracture and head trauma. Our spine patients were still waiting for choppers to get them out when we left this morning.

Several new teams came yesterday to replace us and last night there was another severe aftershock so strong that we actually felt it in the mountains. Patients panicked and ran out of the orphanage, and one jumped from the second story and luckily only broke his arm. There was no way to convince the patients to go back. Lots of moving and tender and sad experiences. I'm still processing it. We helped babies with severe burns, and had the joy of several healthy childbirths at the clinic. Kids with horrendous wounds and fractures were calmed by other victims who were total strangers and either sang to them or helped translate to calm them. We inserted a chest tube using a Foley catheter for someone with impending tension pneumothorax, made splints out of all sorts of stuff, cleaned wounds with not only the basics but with new tricks learned from other docs here and abroad, hydrated severely dehydrated patients, helped cast, laughed with people when we could and cried when we couldn't help it, witnessed thousands of acts of courage and kindness by the beautiful Haitian people - and I was basically just lucky to be part of such a large effort to help them via an amazing group of docs, nurses, and other volunteers.

Had to miss my morning flight as the copilot for Stan is sick. I am looking after him tonight and will get home by another route tomorrow morning. I wish I could stay longer but I miss my kids and need to get back to work. These beautiful people are truly amazing despite the devastation of their country, and they have a silent dignity that I can not do justice to by trying to describe with mere words. The survivors were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, etc., and from all walks of life - from carpenters and ship captains to lawyers, doctors, poets, authors, masons, and business owners all left with nothing at home but complete devastation. There is so much to describe which I will by via a blog later, but for now I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help and be on my way back.

I tore a ligament in my right ankle goofing around the other evening playing soccer with some kids, while waiting for our bus taking us back to where we stay in another village on the frontier/border which only helped make them laugh. All I could do was reflect that unlike many of those kids' friends and families, my ankle, albeit sore, is still attatched to my own leg and I will recover without a trace, while they are left with the physical and emotional scars of being a survivor that will last a lifetime. Thanks for the well wishes. Once I get pics, I will post them and forward them on. Please pray for the healing of the people of Haiti and their families." Ross Isaacs

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