Haiti Relief Mission Journal – We’re Going

On Friday the clinic is sending a surgical team to Haiti. What a story.

Shortly after the earthquake, the president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons sent all of us an email outlining the efforts of Dr. Craig Hobar, a Dallas plastic surgeon and a founder of the LEAP organization. LEAP is an organization that travels to the developing world to bring plastic and reconstructive surgery to people of need. They already had a presence in Haiti when the earthquake struck. Dr. Hobar and his team immediately recognized that this was a natural disaster like no other. In most disasters there are those who die, swept away by the floods or killed by explosions, and those who live. For the survivors the problem is usually one of public health issues: disease, shelter, food and water. This was not true for the Haiti earthquake.

Hundreds of thousands of people were injured. Broken limbs, wounds, terrible lacerations and infections. Fractures which could not be fixed either because of delays in rescue or lack of sophisticated fracture care to treat compound injuries. Gangrene, wound infections and soft tissue deficits are common amongst the survivors. It’s like hundreds of thousands of people were involved in a plane crash all at the same time. These are injuries and problems normally dealt with by plastic surgeons. Haiti is a disaster where the injured need plastic and reconstructive surgery at a level never seen before.

Dr. Hobar asked for surgical teams to volunteer to go to Haiti on a rotational basis. One team a week. Each team continuing the debridement, skin grafting and reconstructive procedures from the previous team. I posted a notice on our fridge asking staff who were interested to attend a meeting one evening. I was amazed that almost every member or our staff attended the meeting. 15 people volunteered for the trip. Everyone else asked how they could help us in our preparations. The response was overwhelming. I called Dr. Zig Wojtasik to give up a week of work and come with us as our anaesthetist. Without a moment’s hesitation he said yes.

I wrote Dr. Hobar and told him we were ready to go. We discussed travel preparations. Regular commercial flights to Haiti are discontinued and were not scheduled to resume until March. So we began making preparations to leave in a month. A few days later Dr. Hobar sent us an email that the situation in Haiti was more dire than expected. Surgical needs of the injured could not wait till March. Teams would need to go now. A day later he called us. Could we leave in a week? He had arranged a private business jet to fly us in on Sat Feb 13. Could we get to Dallas on Friday, 6 teams members and all our gear?

Bedlam. The people were ready. Now we had to put together our gear. Surgical supplies and instruments. We started making calls, ordering equipment, drugs and supplies. Every staff member was involved in helping us get organized.We called all of our suppliers and asked them to help us out with the things we needed. The response was amazing. Companies, individuals, suppliers…everyone offered help in any way that they could. Our pharmacy paid for drugs that they obtained for us. Drug companies made donations. Employees of some companies pitched in financially to help buy supplies. Conmed showed up with a brand new cautery machine that they wanted to donate and asked us to leave in Haiti for future LEAP teams. Johnson and Johnson donated sutures. Some company reps paid for supplies out of their own pockets to help the cause. Medical Mart made a large financial contribution and our rep, Dave Dalton, worked tirelessly to fill our needs. People who know us and others who don’t contributed time, money and supplies. It gives me the shivers to see the generosity.

So we leave tomorrow. Air Canada has been a huge help in arranging our trip to Dallas. We’re travelling with carry on back packs and 12 boxes of supplies. We now have a personal relationship with Mr. Duncan Dee, COO of Air Canada whose office is making our travel arrangements and waving excess baggage fees. We spent most of last night packing our supplies in boxes. Like any nervous traveller we spent today re-packing it all over again. We’re leaving the clinic all together tomorrow at 3pm. Our flight leaves Toronto at 7:30 pm and arrives in Dallas around 11.pm. Dr. Hobar is meeting us in Dallas and then we transfer to the private jet that at 4am will take us to Haiti.

We’re all excited and nervous. Unsure of what to expect.

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