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Haiti Earthquake Relief - Austin-Weston Surgeon Volunteers

Dr. Robert K. SigalSurgical Team From The Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery Volunteers In Haiti 2010

Dr. Sigal & Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery Staff Join University of Miami’s Medishare Haiti Earthquake Relief Project

The devastation in Haiti continues to draw much needed support from across the globe. Several members of The Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery in Northern Virginia volunteered with the University of Miami’s Medishare Haiti Project. Dr. Robert Sigal lead the surgical team and they spent a week in Port-au-Prince contributing much needed medical relief to earthquake victims. The Austin-Weston Center surgical team left on March 22, 2010. Debbie Marinucci

Project Medishare Haiti is part of The Global Institute under the University of Miami Schools of Medicine and Nursing. The Global Institute works for the advancement of global health and development throughout the Western Hemisphere and beyond. Since the catastrophic earthquake, the University of Miami physicians and healthcare professionals have been in Haiti treating the injured. The Austin-Weston Cosmetic Surgery Team will join them in their hospital, which consists of four large tents in the Port-au-Prince air field. The medical staff there and over 140 volunteers and military personnel work in the busy field hospital, providing medical care and performing surgeries in very demanding conditions.

The Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery was founded in 1978 and was the first practice in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan area that was limited exclusively to cosmetic surgery. It is now the largest free standing facility in the area with three nationally respected surgeons on board, Dr. George Weston, Dr. Byron Poindexter and Dr. Robert Sigal.

The Austin-Weston Team have been celebrated for their special expertise across the globe as well as their ongoing charitable and community work, including sending medical supplies and staff to aid after Hurricane Katrina.

For more information on Medishare and the Haiti Earthquake Relief Project, visit www.ProjectMedishare.org.

For more information call 703-893-6168 or visit their website at www.austin-weston.com.

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Haiti Dr. Sigal and staff at airport for Haiti Relief
   
   

Personal Story by Dr. Robert Sigal - March 23, 2010

Toto, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…
The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s the diesel dirty sunny smell that laces the air of all third world Caribbean cities. Deb and I and about 75 others got off the plane in Port Au Prince to that smell and were moved rather quickly to the tent city that functions as Haiti’s best hospital. Other smells would soon greet us.

After a brief orientation, we met with our division chiefs and then it was off to work. Yesterday, the day we landed, I was operating within 45 minutes of hitting the ground and kept it up for 9 hours straight. Deb kept right up with me, working even harder to keep the rooms running. She is a master at fitting in and flowing with whatever issues arise, working within the system to make things better. Today, our second day was a little easier, with only about 7 hours of surgery so far.

It seems that most of the earthquake related injuries are in their “final phases.” Wounds are still horrific, but they are of the chronic variety and seem to be about 1/3 of our patients here. Another third are acute injuries, things like motorcycle accidents and other traumas, and a final third are chronic or acute conditions arising in the population. It seems that the earthquake’s toll on the population will extend far beyond the immediate destruction. By taking down all of the hospitals in the area save one, we have become busy by default.

We sleep under a massive circus tent on cots with straw and gravel under our feet. It has been hot, brutally so under the gowns of the operating room (I think I’ve been through a half gallon of Gatorade already). The toilets are Port-au-Potties (get it?). We shower behind pieces of plywood that drench us with luke-warm “gray water.”  It sounds kind of rustic, but I don’t know that I‘ve ever felt more refreshed after a long hot day.

   

The UN complex is next door, but we have to go outside the fence of the grounds to get there and the word is that even the Haitians don’t go outside after dark. So, the UN came to us last night with a lunch truck serving cheeseburgers and beer.  A steel drum band, and it would have been really nice.

There are people here from all over the world, but about 90% seem to be from the US.  The wound care team is first class. A company called KCI donated over 2 million dollars worth of a device called a VAC which helps tremendously with the care of these difficult problems. Our surgical group is quite skilled, with a neurosurgeon, pediatric surgeon, a general surgeon, two orthopods and another plastic surgeon making it up. I was wondering how my skill set would fit in, but everything seems to “come back.” Just like riding a bike.

The real heroes of this place, though, are the patients. Despite crushing poverty, they are warm, friendly and grateful. Their stories are heartbreaking and the social situations are dismal, but they have a strong religious tradition and seem to be genuinely happy. It just started raining. Maybe it will cool things off.

3/27/10 - Medishare Hospital Complex
Port–Au–Prince, Haiti

At the end of each morning’s orientation, Vince, the chief medical officer would remind us that it was “Dodge City” our there, and to be careful. And at the end of each day, after stumbling out of the steaming operating room, I’d hear stories of people who had gone into the center of Port-Au-Prince and survived. “Completely safe,” they said. After carefully weighing the pros and cons of each side, I figured it was more likely that Vince was exaggerating the dangers than all the returning medical personnel were wrong. I thought it was important to see what was happening downtown, so I booked a trip with a driver and went yesterday afternoon.  It’s taken a little while to process what I saw.

First, it’s not like TV. Anderson Cooper, God bless him, manages to package everything so neatly between commercial breaks.  Mini-dramas play out for five minutes, then the person is rescued, and we move onto the next mini-drama. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen much of Anderson lately in Haiti. What I saw yesterday is chronic, persistent, and intractable.

Second, it’s not like TV. No matter how big your TV is, it’s still really small compared to this reality. The devastation started near the airport and extended for miles. Miles! The scope of it was mesmerizing and numbing at the same time. Pancaked buildings, crushed cars, utility poles leaning into the street. We would get out every once in a while and walk around the shards of crushed concrete and then drive and repeat the process and it all looked the same. Grey, dusty and hard.

   

Third, it’s not like TV. The TV doesn’t smell and this does. Vast “tent” cities have sprung up within the city. They’re not really tents, though. They’re more like boxed lean-to’s made of anything that the people could find. Sheets, tarps, corrugated tin (if they’re lucky) all supported by anything that would hold these flimsy things into a shape capable of holding people. One of these things might suffice for the night, but for months? And then pack them together like sardines with minimal toilet facilities, bake under a 90 degree sun, and you have a recipe for disaster. I have not seen the slums of Calcutta, but I can’t imagine anything worse than this.

   

And amidst all of it, life goes on. Vendors were outside the ruined buildings selling their wares. Businesses were operating inside intact building where they could. People were cutting hair, and changing money, and selling vegetables. There were old car parts for sale, and computers from the ‘70’s, and cologne. My concern though, is that in this hardscrabble world, people are working as hard as they can just to get by. They can’t do much more. I saw very little rebuilding, very little construction. The situation in those tent cities is not just third world poor, it’s unsustainably third world poor. It’s brutal now. When the winds and rains come, I can’t imagine human beings living there.

How did this country come to this and what can be done to make things better? I’m afraid the answers to those questions could fill volumes. The “outside” seems to be trying. The UN is a constant and somewhat unwelcome presence. There are almost 7000 NGO’s registered in Haiti for the 5-7 million people that live there (one person commented that poverty was Haiti’s leading industry.) The Haitian’s that I talked to are looking for the resurrection to fix things and believe it will come soon. For their sake I hope it does.

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