Chicago medical teams head to Haiti

January 25, 2010 2:26:14 PM PST
Two teams of doctors and nurses from Chicago are on their way to Haiti to help earthquake survivors. More than 150,000 victims have been buried by the Haitian government as the death toll from the earthquake continues to rise. Officials from around the world were meeting in Canada Monday to look for better ways to coordinate relief efforts. With the upcoming rainy season in Haiti, thousands who are homeless will need shelter. Documents have put the futures of nearly 1,000 children in the process of being adopted in jeopardy, but some American families have been able to locate orphans and bring them to their new homes.

Many local medical experts are flying to Haiti to help on what's being called a second wave of problems, such as infections and amputations. A group of 20 people left from Rush University Medical Center Monday morning.

The medical missions to Haiti are part of a collaborative effort by the University of Chicago, Northwestern, Rush, and University of Illinois at Chicago hospitals. Teams from each hospital will go to help victims of the earthquake.

These volunteers are so passionate about this medical mission that they are paying their own way. Dozens of stuffed duffle bags and 20 medical experts at rush university medical center loaded into a bus Monday morning. The team is made up of doctors, nurses and specialists in orthopedics and cardiology.

Each volunteer is paying out of his or her own pocket about $1,400 in expenses to help victims.

"There was an outcry for volunteers, medical and nursing volunteers to come to Haiti to deal with really the second wave of the problems that one sees after a disaster of this size, which are medical," said Dr. David Ansell, Rush University Medical Center.

Ansell has been to disaster zones before, but this is new ground for others making their first big medical trip overseas. They have never treated patients in this type of situation, so they all have the tools and education but may not know what to expect.

"Normally, they at least have ventilators. We're told we might not even have oxygen. This is going to be very bare-boned anesthesia for us," said Angela Martin, anesthesiologist.

"I'm thrilled by it. The first time I can go to a country where I can actually apply medicine to help in a situation, it will be a new opportunity for me. I think it's going to be the most worthwhile thing I have done in my training," said Dr. Kelly Ryan, resident.

On Monday morning, five University of Chicago medical professionals, including two Haitian nurses, left for a town on the Haiti-Dominican Republic border that has been overwhelmed by victims of the earthquake.

"We will tailor our teams to be exactly what the ground is looking for," said Dr. Chrissy Babcock, University of Chicago Medical Center.

Going on this medical mission is especially important for Rush University doctor Myriame Casmir, a Haitian American.

"It is very painful because I'm from there. It is more of a personal and professional mission for me because these are my people and they need us," she said.

Local churches have also joined forces to help Haiti. Chicago Churches United for Haiti is collecting supplies and money and thinking about the long-term future for people there.

Allowing Haitian Americans and native Haitians to help in the recovery and rebuilding process is what one group of ministers and Chicago-based Haitian groups are calling for. Besides collecting supplies and money, the newly formed Chicago Churches United for Haiti says they want the U.S. government to know that Haitians can help themselves.

"In terms of jobs there in Haiti, we recognize they have a right to be a part of the destiny of the third phase, which is rebuilding," said Rev. Stephen Thurston.

Making sure Haitians are on their team is a priority for the doctors from the University of Chicago Medical Center who will be volunteering in Haiti.

Dr. Babcock and Dr. Christian Theodosis have spent the past week putting together a huge data base of medical professionals from four of Chicago's academic hospitals that are willing to help in Haiti.

"I certainly know when we went through our lists, the folks that were Haitian were on the top of the list," said Theodosis of the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Theodosis and Babcock coordinated with teams on the ground in Haiti to assess exactly what the need was before sending a team.

Another U of C team leaves at the end of the week to go to Port-au-Prince.

Theodosis and Babcock say the plan is to rotate medical staff in and out for many months ahead, depending on the need.