UM’s hospital in Haiti, a four-tent compound at the edge of the Port-au-Prince airport, began operating a day after the Jan. 12 earthquake.
(January 25, 2010) — Adult and child patients now rest in separate and more spacious wards, their flimsy cots no longer crammed tight. Two operating rooms boast anesthesia machines and surgical lights. A pathology lab is opening and, finally, an imaging center is enabling orthopedic surgeons to quit repairing shattered bones with visual inspections and touch alone.
The University of Miami Hospital in Haiti would hardly meet U.S. standards, but the four-tent compound at the edge of the Port-au-Prince airport is a vast improvement over the makeshift clinic the Miller School's Global Institute/Project Medishare began operating a day after the Jan. 12 earthquake left Haiti in ruins.
'Now we're going to be able to use more modern medicine,' a weary Eduardo de Marchena, M.D., associate dean for international medicine reported Friday. 'This is the most inspiring effort I've ever participated in. I really don't think there's ever been a university that has put together a working field hospital in an emergency situation like this.'
In addition to two operating rooms, which are expected to double the Miller School's surgical capacity to about 50 operations a day, the 25,000-square foot air-conditioned compound includes two carnival-like, white tents to store medical and other supplies, and provide sleeping quarters for the nearly 200 volunteers from the University and beyond who have been toiling around the clock to stabilize and save lives. It has been dubbed 'UM Inn.'
But as welcome and impressive as the UM hospital is, it will barely make a dent in the enormous medical needs of a country with hundreds of thousands of dead, gravely wounded and homeless people.
'There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of patients on the ground who will require this level of care and they require it as soon as possible, if not now,' de Marchena said. 'There will still be many, many more who will die in the next few weeks and this is before we've even started with some of the secondary infections and epidemics we'll see.'
Transported by volunteers and Chilean and Argentine U.N. peacekeepers, patients began arriving at the new field hospital on Thursday from the crude clinic that Barth Green, M.D., professor and chairman of neurological surgery, established about a half-mile away after he led the first medical team to the ravished capital a day after the earthquake struck. There, doctors were amputating limbs by flashlight, on slabs of concrete outside.
Along with Arthur Fournier, M.D., professor of family medicine and associate dean for community health affairs, Green co-founded Project Medishare 15 years ago to improve health care access in Haiti. Their longstanding commitment and deep ties to the impoverished country facilitated the University's quick and expanding role in the medical relief effort.
But even with the larger, cleaner, better-equipped field hospital, de Marchena noted, many other obstacles remain. Even patients who no longer need acute care present major challenges. After all, many have nowhere to go and no idea if their families are still alive so the UM clinic is, and the hospital will almost surely become, a de facto refugee center.
Yet, de Marchena said, the rewards of helping people in such desperate need make up for all the hardships, challenges and images of misery that will haunt him for a long time.
'There is such beautiful humanity down there you feel enriched,' he said. 'You feel like you're a more complete human being for having been there.'
As the Miller School continues to expand its medical mission in Haiti, the need for translators, anesthesiologists, surgeons, critical care nurses, surgical nurses and specialists in infectious disease, and family and internal medicine remains.
To support the Global Institute's health care mission in Haiti you may give to the United Way/UM through 'Operation Helping Hands,' make an online donation directly to the Global Institute or send a check made out to the 'University of Miami-Global Institute' to P.O. Box 248073, Coral Gables, Florida, 33124.
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