As I write this my office is organizing my departure for Haiti tomorrow. Like everyone I’ve been watching the horrific images on the nightly news for a week now. Last night I decided that I could not sit around and watch any more. Since our first medical mission last month to the Dominican Republic I’ve come to realize that charity work is one of those deeds which encourages you to do more. If you can help us in any way please contact my office at 212.744.9400 and speak with Fatima.
Haiti – day 2
I arrived in the DR around 2:30 yesterday morning, stopped at a friend’s parents house for some light food and 2 hours of sleep. We happened upon a small hospital with several Plastic Surgery and Orthopedic patients waiting for someone to help them. I let my team continue on and I stayed behind with Dr. Michael Vitale, an orthopedist that I met, to do the necessary work. We did 13 cases and are now figuring out how to get to a new Haitian facility where their casualties are being taken. These are some of the most horrific injuries that I’ve ever seen in all my years of trauma.
Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 3
Drove with 25 people in 5 vehicle caravan from the Dominican town of Barahona at first light. Crossing the border into Haiti, was crowded but seemed extremely safe. We traveled 11 Km to an orphanage that’s been converted into a medical facility. Patients are receiving incredible care considering the circumstances. I branched off from my last team and I’m now at Good Samaritan Hospital being briefed by 2 Plastic Surgeons from Florida who are heading home tomorrow. Here major surgeries are being performed in 5 ORs daily. I just watched a 6 week old little girl come in respiratory arrest. 10 pediatricians worked on her and she’s now stabilized. Tomorrow AM I’ll start operating here. Everywhere I turn I seem to bump into the most amazing people here. It really renews my faith in the human spirit.
Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 4 (I think)
Today’s cases ended about an hour ago. Somewhat frustrating because a case that would have taken me 1 hour in the States took 3 hours because of the lack of the proper skin grafting machine. My wife has tackled this and one should be showing up in the next few days. Time management is very important here as there are so many cases to get done in these 5 ORs. The other 2 Plastic Surgeons just left for the airport, over the last 24 hours they’ve handed over their cases to me. Tomorrow should be very busy. Thanks to everyone for your support, your donations have bought 16 suitcases of supplies, 25 wheelchairs, 2 large generators, and the skin grafting equipment mentioned above. If you could see this place with your own 2 eyes you would never look at your life the same way again. Thank you everyone. Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 5
Today was busy as the other Plastic Surgeons headed home yesterday. I operated on 7 patients, 1 of whom was a 3 month old girl with a deep wound from being trapped under her dead mother’s weight. We are organizing a group of New York Plastic Surgeons to begin traveling down here in pairs starting next week to continue this work. As of yet I do not know when that will be, and have decided to stay on here until help arrives. Each day that these wounds are left open they grow more likely to become infected and result in an amputation. The skin grafting machine arrived in the Manhattan office today and will be delivered to me Friday. This will make a huge difference. Today we had an after shock, but I didn’t really feel it. Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 6
Today my team and I did 12 cases. The patient’s wounds are being operated on every 48 hours to keep infections at bay. So far, so good. Everyone’s moral on the Plastic Surgery service is high because we’re seeing success from all the hard work. Today 4 Plastic Surgeons arrived, 2 from Boca Raton (Dr Anthony Dardano and Dr Louis DeLuca) and 2 from Guatemala. They jumped right in and started helping. It’s great to be meeting people from all over the world while working for a common cause. With the extra help I’m going to work on securing living arrangements locally for future Plastic Surgeons to stay in, this way my office can coordinate their coverage over the next few months Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 7
Too tired to write last night, but what a great day yesterday was. We’re starting to see the fruits of our labor. 44 patients were found to have stabilized their wounds and are out of immediate danger of limb amputations as a result of their surgeries. We moved into a house that Vanity 4 Humanity rented for the influx of doctors that will be coming down over the next weeks to months. Even better, the skin grafting machine has arrived and has already been used. This machine will drastically decrease OR times allowing us to do more surgeries. We put a system in place for all of the wards to organize our viewing of their patient’s wounds which also will save time.
Most frustrating is the lack of a coordinated approach to getting the necessary medical staff here in the right numbers, and this is why my office is beginning to book anesthesiologists and nurses, in addition to Plastic Surgeons.
We’re getting there, thank you for everything you are all doing, it’s working!
Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Days 8/9
The last 24 hours have been a blur. Yesterday 25 Plastics cases were done by us, the total OR cases numbered 38. These are big numbers for a 5 OR facility, with a 100% volunteer staff from all over the world. People are performing at the highest levels possible, under very extreme conditions. Today another 17 cases; to date we have not had a failed or infected skin graft.
Our 40 sickest surgical cases were airlifted out to other hospitals today in gigantic Navy helicopters. Hopefully this will decompress our ICU and allow us to address some of the less complicated wounds. New plastic surgeons are arriving tonight and will be staying with me in the house that we’ve arranged.
Overall it feels as though this place is improving every day. We get confronted with problems, big and small, and figure them as we go. The Haitian people are an incredibly resilient bunch. As I’m writing this at 7 pm with the sun setting, I’m listening to them break into a spontaneous hymn in there outside ward under a tent. It’s hard for me to comprehend their faith, strength, and dignity during this difficult time.
I hope some good comes out of this tragedy. Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 10
The atmosphere in the hospital has relaxed a little now that 40 of the sickest patients have been transferred. We used the day to do 15 cases, and to go through the largest ward and address the less critical wounds. Walking through the patient areas constantly amazes me of how strong these people are after going through this tragedy. Most smile when we approach their bed and say “God bless you,” when we leave. My new Plastic Surgeon is Dr Silvio Podda, who is a star. We instantly became friends and have embraced this experience of getting ahead of these wounds. He came along just when I needed him most. He’s also the first of our surgeons to come down due to Vanity 4 Humanity’s request for surgeons. Thank you Silvio. Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Days 11 and 12
I’ve gotten to know two nuns who are caring for a patient of mine at an orphanage in Port of Prince. Every 4 days they drive the 2 hours in traffic each way. On Monday they told me of the trouble a sister convent of theirs was having with earthquake victim’s wounds. We exchanged information and Silvio and I said that we would try to help. We contemplated driving and as we were making are final plans we were informed that a volunteer had shown up and donated his helicopter and his pilot for our use. 20 minutes later we were in the air. We flew over Port of Prince and refueled at it’s airport.
Words can’t describe the devastation that we saw in and around the neighboring area. It seemed like 2 out of every 3 houses were leveled. Seas of tents were seen with messages of SOS and NEED FOOD from the air. We were speechless. I walked on the ruble at Ground Zero on that Sept 12th, and this reminded of that same feeling of helplessness.
We traveled about 100 miles south of there to the city of Les Cayes, we found the convent of The Missionaries of Charity, this is the order that Mother Theresa was part of. Seven nuns run the place with over 200 children in their care. The place was spotless in the middle of an incredibly poor city that has grown with 12,000 homeless since the quake. We rounded on all their patients and educated them about some aspects of wound care, but they were doing an amazing job anyway considering their resources and staffing. Then they took us through the city to meet an 11 year old girl who caught fire while cooking during a tremor last week. She’s burnt over 30% of her body and beyond the treatment capabilities at that hospital. We made arrangements with the nuns to transfer her and her father to our facility on Saturday. We spent the night in a tent inside the convent grounds and flew back today.
Tomorrow morning we’re back in the OR doing cases and rounding in the afternoon. Two more Plastic Surgeons from Manhattan get here tomorrow night. I feel as though everything that I needed to get in place here before I left is now done. Tomorrow I’ll book my flight home for Friday, where I can continue to organize and arrange from afar.
Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 13
When flying out of Haiti yesterday our team was faced with a difficult situation. The chopper returned for us with 2 of the 4 seats occupied. After some phone calls and thinking we agreed that we, the 2 MDs, would return and our friend Craig would go by truck with a driver that we met. It was a very unsettling feeling saying good bye to him so far from the border.
Craig’s email was working and we communicated throughout the late afternoon and evening. As midnight approached he neared the border which closes here at 7pm. We organized some of the local talent who had some connections at the border and Silvio and I drove there. After about 30 minutes and some negotiating Craig was on DR soil and we all sleep better having him back with us.
Today more gains were made here concerning the patient census and medical record numbers. Patients were allowed to have 1 family member stay with them, all the others were taken to refugee camps inside the Haitian border, as declared by the Dominican government. It was sad to see the fear in some of their eyes concerning splitting up their families. Nothing is easy here, especially the decisions to break up these bonds of human attachment after a tragedy such as this.
Goodnight from Haiti.
Haiti – Day 14 (AM)
This morning I was notified that our helicopter pilot and owner were both killed in a crash last night. We got very close to them during the several hours in the air over Haiti the two previous days. They both showed a lust for life and for helping others. They organized and delivered food and medical supplies to many of the small villages that we landed in. Jim and John gave their lives helping others from the air.
May they rest in peace.
Haiti – Day 14 (PM)
I’m writing this while waiting to board my flight at the airport. The next team of Plastic Surgeons, from our efforts to organize, arrived at the hospital today. I briefed them about our service and Dr Silvio Podda will show them the ropes until he leaves. We’ve received a large response from our asking Plastic Surgeons for help, and have rotating teams scheduled through mid March thus far.
Our 6 hour drive to the airport was somber due to the terrible news received this morning. Right now I’m a bag of raw emotions and just want to get home to my family. I’d like to thank everyone for their words of encouragement during these past two weeks, the many short messages that I received gave me strength at the end of each long day. I’d also like to thank Dr Silvio Podda for his camaraderie and friendship during this difficult time. His professionalism and his humor inspired me. I’d also like to thank my wife Fatima for all of her hard work and words of comfort over the phone. I miss her and my kids more than ever before and can’t wait to see them in a few hours.
As I say goodnight from Haiti for the last time this trip I want to encourage all of you to help your fellow man in need. We are one human race on this earth for a very short time.
Goodnight from Haiti and thank you.
Haiti / NYC
I arrived home safe and sound late Friday night. Saturday was spent relaxing with Fatima and the kids. The culture shock of walking around Manhattan this weekend compared to the last two weeks was eye opening. The excess that most of us take for granted is what has struck me most.
Sunday my wife briefed me on her email campaign and I saw the large response that we’ve received. The ripple effect that has been sparked because of this trip is a sign that people have the desire to help, they just need to be reached.
Now I’m back in the office where we’ll continue to arrange the Plastic Surgery coverage at Good Samaritan Hospital in Jimani. Our next drive for donations will be targeted towards buying, and delivering, 30 wheelchairs to the Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti. The nuns we visited with there are taking care of many amputated orphans who have no way to get around the facility now that they’re recovering.
We will continue to keep you informed of these and more of our projects in the future.
I could not have done any of this without your generosity. Thank you, you’ve made a difference to the people of Haiti in their hour of need.