Helping Hands in Haiti

Dr. Brendan Campbell, Medical Director of Pediatric Trauma at Connecticut Children’s reflects on his weeklong visit to Haiti; where he, retired pediatric surgeon, Dr. Donald Hight and pediatric anesthesiologist, Richard Kuntz, provided surgical care to patients of all ages at the Hopital Sacre Coeur in Milot.

We learned a lot over the 7 days we spent in Milot, and hopefully managed to have a positive impact on a few Haitian children.

The fact that at least two of the patients we operated on last year had died over the last 12 months gives you a sense for what living in abject poverty does to your health status.
12-31-15-2In 5 days we performed about 20 operations (thank you Rich Kuntz!), and are getting better at selecting the most appropriate cases to do (i.e., those that are beyond the expertise of the Haitian general surgeons, and do not require resource intensive post-op care). We saw many unusual medical cases including cutaneous anthrax, strongyloides, and diphtheria. I won’t bore you with the details of these, or depress you with the details of the many children we saw dying from malnutrition.

It’s always a pleasure to operate with Dr. Hight. His interest and enthusiasm for learning in the twilight of his surgical career makes me think that he chose his life’s work wisely. (I think) His and my approach to handling fundamental surgical problems is similar, and we both have the necessary patience and adaptability to navigate the many challenges that arise in austere surgical environments…
12-31-15-3Quality improvement is a different animal in a hospital powered by 3 diesel generators that operates mostly on donated supplies and equipment. You have to pare down your expectations, recognize the substantial diagnostic and clinical limitations, focus on the most beneficial and cost-effective interventions, and realize the critical importance of exercising surgical restraint.

And though the luggage (including medical supplies) for two-thirds of our team never arrived, our team somehow still managed to cobble together enough toys and treats to have a Christmas party for the children at the hospital. This event takes on special meaning in a country where Christmas Day is really no different than any other day.

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