Medical challenges in Haiti

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International aid workers are getting more food to survivors of this month's earthquake in Haiti. The UN says food aid has reached 500,000 people at least once. But as many as two million people are in need. Reporter Sheri Fink, who's also a medical doctor, has been traveling around Port-au-Prince. She's following the work of one of the ?disaster medical assistance teams? that the US Department of Health and Human Services sent to Haiti.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. International aid workers are getting more food to survivors of this month's earthquake in Haiti. The UN says food aid has reached 500,000 people at least once, but as many as 2,000,000 people are in need. Reporter Sherri Fink, who's also a doctor, has been traveling around the capital, Port-au-Prince. She's following the work of one of the disaster management assistance teams, or d-mats, that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sent to Haiti. Sherri says the team's doctors and nurses had a busy weekend.

SHERRI FINK: They started to see more patients toward the latter part of last week and it became a question of matching what they could provide to what the population needed and those didn't always match up. There are a lot of things that they can do, but there are a lot of things that they can't do and some of the needs, the medical needs, here are starting to shift. There is a recognition among a lot of the field hospitals that there needs to be some kind of a new facility that comes up that can take care of patients after they've had their surgeries, for example. That's just not really available right now. So that's been a real bottleneck. Another problem that this team has had that has been severe is with supplies. So there were times, many times, that operations had to be halted or couldn't be done because we ran low on fuel.

WERMAN: How are people on the ground resolving these basic issues?

FINK: Interestingly, it's been the Haitians who sort of stepped up. Even though this is a federal U.S. response, Haitians have come to the rescue, in effect allowing this place to keep functioning. When there was a critical shortage of oxygen, we couldn't get any through the U.S. supply chain, one of the patient's brothers went, the patient is Gerd Belizare, he and his brothers had survived the earthquake, spent hours under the rubble and he had a very severe crush injury, got quite ill and at this hospital here needed to be intubated. He needed a breathing tube put down his throat. Then he needed oxygen. We were running out and his brother literally scoured Port-au-Prince and found a big tank and that let this hospital keep functioning. It supported a number of patients, not only his brother.

WERMAN: What kind of things is the disaster management team unable to do and where do those Haitian patients go for those more complicated procedures?

FINK: This is the real problem here. So this team is set up really to do surgeries and to take very good care of wounds, do dressing changes under sedation so that patients aren't uncomfortable and keep these wounds healing. They can do amputations when wounds are, have been sitting so long untreated that they've become infected and gangrene set it. They've had to do a number of those, very said cases. They are also able to do something if somebody, many, many people here have fractures of the big bone in the leg, the femur, the thigh bone, and so what they're able to do is put in something called an external fixator. Basically to brace it through the skin with some metal pins to brace it until there can be a more definitive surgery done. They cannot do that more definitive surgery here. They can do that on the hospital ship, the Comfort, but there is such a back up now that that ship is not taking many patients.

WERMAN: Sherri, with a lot of these injuries, broken bones, amputated limbs, post surgery follow up is going to be crucial. You've been following a few patients after their surgeries. What have you been finding so far in these last few days?

FINK: Some of them are being flown out to the Comfort, or one of the other hospital ships that's in the area that the U.S. military is operating. So I was able to follow some of the patients there and the good news is that those are tremendous facilities. It's a U.S. standard of care staffed with a lot of medical staff and they seem to be very, very busy but still just seem to be working very hard and able to provide a lot of care. But they're backed up and there are a number of problems that you think would have been worked out. One very simple one has to do with family members. Of course we all want to know what's going on with our loved one. Patients do better if a family member is around them and there is no phone number for patients' family members to call to find out what's happened when they get whisked away on a helicopter. The U.S. military says they're working on that, but they have not provided that. The initial number that was given to this d-mat team here is non-functional and we're getting distraught family members just begging us for information on loved ones.

WERMAN: Well we'll be checking back in with you Sherri during the week. Reporter and doctor there, Sherri. And Sherri, before we let you go, you actually have with you a gentleman whose sibling, his brother, was taken to one of the hospital ships off the shore of Port-au-Prince. Could we have a quick word with him please?

FINK: Sure, here is he.


WERMAN: Yes, hello. Ketlar Belizare, how are you?

BELIZARE: I'm fine thank you.

WERMAN: I understand your brother, Gerd, was taken to one of the hospital ships off the shore of Haiti. Can you tell me, what has it been like trying to find out where he's been?

BELIZARE: We want to know exactly what's going on with him, what they did for him. I know he is in good hands, but we want to know. My family keep asking me how he is. We don't know what to do, what to tell them. So we are here to know exactly what's going on. If they have contact with the ship, we have Sherri helping us to find what's going on with him. We email everybody that we know. We keep calling them, but no answer. So the main problem that we have is to see him or to know exactly what's going on with him. His wife keeps crying. My mother and everybody wants to know exactly what's going on.

WERMAN: How was your brother precisely injured in the earthquake?

BELIZARE: We've been under the ground. When the earthquake came, we spend 20 hours under the rubble and three days after he had a pain on his stomach, on the chest, that's what happened. When we bring him to the hospital. We've been at three or four hospitals all over here, all over the country. We came here and they tell us that they have to ship, to bring him to the ship.

WERMAN: And I understand that you are the gentleman who actually found a tank of oxygen for your brother so he could kind of limp along until he was evacuated to the ship. How hard was it to find a tank of oxygen in Port-au-Prince 10 days after this earthquake?

BELIZARE: I kept calling people asking them where could I have oxygen. So far I went to another hospital, I found a friend who gave it to me. I have to sign and give them my word, tell them I'm going to bring the bottle when it's finished. I'm so happy to have people over there that can use it because my brother is on the ship now, he don't need it anymore. People over there need some oxygen. That's, I think it's fabulous. That's a miracle.

WERMAN: Ketlar Belizare, very nice to speak with you. Thank you for your time.

BELIZARE: Thank you so much.

WERMAN: Ketlar Belizare's brother was injured in Haiti's earthquake. Ketlar found the oxygen tank that enable his brother to survive. That oxygen tank was the only tank available for that medical facility on Saturday.