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More Than 2,000 Earthquake Survivors Receive Care at the University of Miami Hospital in Haiti

2/12/2010

The Miller School’s hospital in Haiti has reached a major milestone, treating more than 2,000 survivors of the devastating earthquake that left Haiti in ruins a month ago.

Observing the first of three days of national mourning, Haitian co-workers at the University’s burgeoning camp on the edge of the Port-au-Prince airport were dressed in white on Friday. The hospital staff, comprised of volunteers from the Miller School and beyond, also had the new and welcomed assistance of U.S. Army medical corpsmen with specialized biomedical skills, and a visit from U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. Returning from Haiti, Florida's senior senator observed that distribution of food and supplies had greatly improved, but urgent help is still needed, especially before the rainy season begins.

Completing the first of many anticipated medical specialty missions, a Miller School neurological surgery team treated earthquake survivors with spinal cord injuries earlier this month. Led by Michael Wang, M.D., associate professor of neurological surgery and rehabilitation medicine, the team performed minimally invasive fracture fixations on about 10 newly paralyzed patients.

"This approach will reduce the likelihood of infection and wound healing problems associated with traditional open spinal surgeries," Wang said.

For the hospital's less severely injured patients, wound care has become an increasingly difficult problem. That's not because earthquake survivors and the growing number of trauma patients from post-quake accidents aren't receiving adequate care – on the contrary, many patients are ready for discharge, but have nowhere to go.

"They have no home," Michael Kolber, M.D., professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist, reported to the UM Global Institute's Haiti Relief Task Force during his rotation at the hospital. "These people don't need to be in the hospital, but they cannot be in the street. It's a major problem. We wrestle with it on a daily basis."

To relieve some of the pressure on the hospital, discharged patients will now receive out-patient care at a wound care tent set up nearby. Kolber frequently noted how the volunteer doctors, nurses and administrators from the Miller School and beyond manage to do so much with so little. He gave one particularly uplifting example: Staffers who lacked an incubator after delivering a premature baby by C-section came up with an ingenious warmer:

"They used MREs to warm the baby," Kolber said. "We were all pretty happy to hear that."

The military's Meals-Ready-to-Eat come with flameless heaters that use a simple chemical reaction to warm food.

In addition to surgeries, Wang's team, which included Robert Irwin, M.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, and five other spinal cord injury specialists, took preliminary steps to tackle another monumental task: building Port-au-Prince's first comprehensive spinal cord injury rehabilitation center so SCI survivors can remain in Haiti.

“This outreach program is intended to build the knowledge base, infrastructure, and organizational scaffold so the people of Haiti can independently manage this complicated and life-threatening problem," Wang said.

Like much of the University's medical relief efforts in Haiti, the spinal cord mission was initiated by Barth Green, M.D., professor and chair of neurological surgery, who led the first medical team to Port-au-Prince a day after the January 12 earthquake. A decade after co-founding The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in 1985, Green co-founded the Global Institute's Project Medishare with Arthur Fournier, M.D., professor of family medicine and associate dean for community health affairs, to improve health care access in Haiti.

Their longstanding commitment and deep ties to the impoverished nation facilitated the University's quick and ongoing role in the earthquake relief effort.

In addition to health care professionals, raising money for the Global Institute to support the University's doctors, nurses and students in Haiti remains a priority. You may 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.