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William O'Neill, M.D., Executive Dean for Clinical Affairs, Returns from Haiti

1/16/2010

Toiling under primitive conditions, without basic equipment, members of the Miller School’s team in Haiti have treated and triaged more than 250 survivors of Tuesday’s catastrophic earthquake, leaving William O’Neill, M.D., executive dean of clinical affairs, awestruck by their heroic efforts.

“They are performing life-saving acts in a literal war zone with lack of such basic services as blood pressure cuffs, foley catheters and even equipment to chart on patients,” O’Neill said after returning from Haiti where he assessed the needs of the growing UM force that has been working around the clock at the Port-au-Prince airport since Wednesday. “The entire University community can take great pride that, while the rest of the world was anxious to help, we did immediately and will be forever remembered by these beautiful, kind, desperately poor people.’’

The first medical team to arrive in Haiti after the 7.0 temblor leveled much of the capital and surrounding areas, the UM force has grown to about 100 doctors, nurses and other personnel. At the same time, about two dozen injured quake survivors airlifted to South Florida have been treated at the Ryder Trauma Center at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. The numbers are likely to grow as rescuers bring some semblance of order to the chaos and desperation that has descended on the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

“We continue to coordinate with local, state and federal agencies to prepare for the arrival of additional patients,’’ said Nicholas Namias, M.D., senior trauma surgeon and director of the UM/Jackson Memorial Burn Center.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, visiting some of Jackson’s quake survivors Friday, called on all of Florida’s children’s hospitals to help the youngest victims. He said the Ryder Center’s expertise, coupled with its proximity to Haiti and affiliation with Holtz Children’s Hospital, will make it a primary center for rendering assistance.
Lauding Americans for their generosity to the relief effort, Nelson also singled out the Miller School for its quick response. Led by Barth Green, M.D., professor and chairman of neurological surgery and co-founder of Project Medishare, the UM team began treating the critically wounded less than 24 hours after the disaster left an estimated 50,000 dead and untold numbers without shelter, food, water and other basic essentials and services.

The generosity Nelson spoke of was on full display at Ransom-Everglades School on Friday, when Ellen Moceri, head of the school, and several students gave Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., a check for $29,340.28. The students raised the sum after selecting the University’s Global Institute for Community Health and Development for its fundraising efforts. The institute is helping spearhead the relief effort, and by Friday morning had amassed a list of more than 300 Miller School personnel volunteering to assist in Haiti.

The Dean expressed his gratitude to the students for their hard work and generosity, saying their caring nature exemplified the community at large.

The Haiti Task Force, consisting of senior faculty and members of the health system leadership, continues to meet daily to coordinate the volunteer and relief effort, and plan for the prolonged mission that will be required throughout what will undoubtedly be Haiti’s agonizingly long and slow recovery.

Even before the quake struck, Haitians endured a fragile infrastructure with extensive health care shortages and gaps, which Project Medishare and other UM programs had been working so arduously to close.

Many of the wounded suffered crushing injuries from collapsing buildings and surgeons here and at the airport field hospital are seeing a lot of head trauma and severe fractures, many requiring amputations.

“Many of the patients coming in early on showed signs of muscle breakdown and damage to the kidneys from lack of access to immediate medical care,’’ Namias said.

Among the injured recovering at Holtz Children’s Hospital was Karim Apollon, a 7-year-old U.S. citizen who suffered a fractured skull, injured jaw and respiratory problems from an injured lung, when his father’s house collapsed. Sen. Nelson visited the boy Friday while the youngster was busy watching Alvin and the Chipmunks under the watchful eye of his relieved parents. His mother, Tania Apollon, expressed her gratitude to Green, who helped the boy and his family get to Miami. She called Green “a savior.’’

Namias said most of the quake survivors he’s seen are amazingly upbeat.

“They’re doing remarkably well,’’ Namias said. “Mentally, they are very positive. I think they are all glad to be alive, and out of Haiti.’’