Doctors from Montefiore Medical Center joined teams of surgeons from Spain and France on a mission to Haiti to aid children injured in the colossal earthquake that shook the island nation on Tuesday, January 12.
Montefiore pediatric surgeons and other doctors traveled Haiti on Sunday, January 17 and returned on Sunday, January 24. They treated wounded children outside Port Au Prince at a hospital normally used for plastic surgery, Clinique Lambert. Montefiore’s administration offered critical support. The group was part of the international charity Surgeons of Hope Foundation.
Dr. Dominique Jan, Montefiore’s chief of pediatric surgery, worked with colleagues around the world to coordinate logistics. They arranged for security and had to find an undamaged hospital near Port Au Prince, one willing to host foreign doctors.
“We got the opportunity to work in a private institution that was in an earthquake-proof building,” Jan said. “The owner of the hospital, Dr. Maggy Degan, opened the doors of the institution for the world to help.”
Montefiore’s administration had a team ready only 72 hours after the earthquake. The team remained in Haiti for a week.
For Montefiore anesthesiologist Dr. Alexandra Bastien, the trip to help perform desperate surgeries on children meant even more. Bastien was born in Haiti but had not been back since she was six years old. She participated in 12 to 15 surgeries a day, most on children.
“This is a way of helping people where I come from,” Bastein said. “It changed the way that I view my practice of medicine. I came to realize how fortunate I am whenever I operate [in America].”
Bastien also recognized how much Montefiore’s support staff does. Before the trip, she took freshly sterilized equipment and supplies such as gauze, plus on-hand nurses and assistants, for granted, Bastien explained.
“Here [in the Bronx] I have a lot of resources and support,” Bastien said. “We had to rinse our own equipment and cut cotton to make our own gauze. Medications were not always available.”
Many of the Haitian children had suffered repeated trauma and fractures, including broken spines and limbs, Bastien said. She had to ask family members and strangers to work as nurses. Some amputations were unavoidable but luckily the Montefiore doctors didn’t need to perform many amputations. They feel as if they made a difference.
“There was a child named Donald,” Bastien said. “We saved his eye [after debris cracked his skull] and his brain was exposed. I was able to provide his anesthesia. Within three days, Donald was seeing and we preserved much of his brain function.”
Reach reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 742-3393 or procchio@c
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