Keck surgeons assist relief effort in Haiti


A team of doctors and nurses from USC’s Keck School of Medicine flew to Haiti Saturday as part of the worldwide effort to help the survivors of the country’s massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake that occurred last week.

The nine surgeons on the team are working along with another team led by Dr. Henri Ford, vice dean of medical education at Keck and chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, performing surgeries and providing medical assistance at the Israeli field hospital in Port-au-Prince.

Photos courtesy of Los Angeles Times and USC’s Keck School of Medicine

Members of the team have been providing updates on their work through a new blog set up by Keck.

Ford, a Haitian native, recently sent an update about surgeries he performed on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

“While on the ship, the chief medical officer [Dr. Alfred Shwayhat] asked me to stay to help with a young girl with a penetrating head trauma,” Ford wrote on the blog. “A roof collapsed on her and a piece of brick was embedded in her skull with extension to the brain. Last night, we removed most of the brick.”

To organize the team initially, Keck Dean Carmen Puliafito called Keck’s Director of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, Demetrios Demetriades. It took about 10 minutes for Demetriades to gather surgeons who were interested in going to Haiti, Puliafito said.

“We’ve got some great doctors at USC; because we staff the Los Angeles County Medical Center, we’ve got lots of experience with trauma,” Puliafito said. “It’s really gratifying to see how quickly people respond to this call.”

Although air traffic in and out of Haiti has been severely bottlenecked, the doctors were able to fly in on a private jet provided by Project Medishare Haiti and the Miami Global Institute.

The doctors are working together with colleagues from the University of Miami, the United Nations and the Israeli field hospital to provide aid, Puliafito said. He expects the team to be in Haiti for at least one or two weeks.

Photo courtesy of The Los Angeles Times

The surgeons on the team have been sending updates by text, e-mail and blog posts, but Puliafito said this can be a difficult task.

“They have a situation where electrical power is extremely scarce, and they’re conserving the battery on their cell phones,” he said.

Dr. Ramon Cestero, the surgeon who is heading the Keck team, sent blog updates about the conditions in Haiti.

“Outstanding facility, everyone being put to use,” Cestero wrote on the blog. “Team continuing to provide triage, orthopedic, trauma, ice, anesthesia and emergency care alongside Israeli field hospital personnel.”

In another update, Ford emphasized the need for aid after the devastating earthquake.

“Many people (hundreds if not thousands) living in tents just outside the clinic area. Some have been waiting to see a doctor since the earthquake,” he wrote. “The stories we are hearing are gut-wrenching.”

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