Thursday, February 4, 2010

Home from Haiti, Dr. Larry Ronan Recounts His Volunteer Experience

I returned from two weeks aboard the USNS COMFORT as a Project HOPE volunteer as part of Operation United Relief - Haiti. Dr. Harold Timboe, Project Hope's Chief Medical Officer for this deployment, and I boarded the ship on January 16th. My initial plan was to disembark in Miami in 3 days to meet our volunteers. However, the fleet ordered the COMFORT to steam directly to Haiti, no stops, so my journey began.

We sailed from Baltimore to Port-au-Prince in four days. This allowed us time to prepare the hospital ship and plan our operations.

When we arrived in Haiti, I joined the Navy's Rapid Assessment Team (RAT Team). Everyday a Navy surgeon, a security detail, a communications team and I would take a Black Hawk helicopter into different parts of Port-au-Prince to evaluate and evacuate patients to the COMFORT.

The situation on the ground was chaotic: thousands scrambling to secure food and water. Sixty percent of the city in rubble. Major institutions - the presidential palace, national cathedral, the hospitals, banks and business buildings - in ruins. People were camped in any open area using plastic for shelter. No electricity or sanitation. In a city of 4 million people no one slept inside fearful of further earthquakes.

We spent a number of days at University Hospital where 1500 patients overwhelmed a 400 bed facility. Many patients had sustained crush injuries with open femur, pelvis and spine fractures. Some were already paralyzed. Most were badly infected or had gangrene. Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne served as the emergency ambulance crew transporting patients to our helicopters in humvees and trucks.

On board the COMFORT the scene was impressive. Within 48 hours of sailing, the sailors had opened up from plastic wrap and boxes 600 beds and 12 operating rooms. Before we anchored in Haiti the COMFORT was already taking on patients. When I left two weeks later they were operating 24/7 and had over 700 patients.

I met our first set of volunteers at the airport (where half spent the night as guests of the 82nd Airborne) and saw them off on the helos to the ship. I'm told they hit the ground running taking on clinical shifts immediately the next day. Their arrival was much much anticipated by the Navy's nurses and doctors exhausted from the around the clock schedule.

On my return I had the opportunity to attend the UN "cluster" meetings which are the organizational focus for all NGO's dealing with health, food, water and shelter. I was proud to wear my Project HOPE T-shirt in these meetings. As with prior disasters Katrina and tsunami we are front and center.

I'm now back at Massachusetts General Hospital hoping to organize more volunteers to join up with Project Hope for this important mission.

--Dr. Larry Ronan Massachusetts General Hospital

Photos by HOPE Volunteer and photojournalist, Astrid Riecken

No comments:

Post a Comment