Haiti Plastic Surgeon Helping in Relief Efforts
One Margaret Degand, M.D. has been a plastic surgeon in Petionville, Haiti for years, offering such cosmetic procedures as breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, and liposuction to the Haitian upper class. The earthquake collapsed two big buildings near her clinic while she was working and people ran to her door with head injuries, broken limbs, and other urgent needs.
She got to work immediately.
- “They were really badly wounded because they were big buildings with lots of cement. Really, I have never seen so many traumatized patients,” she said. “They had scalp wounds. They were bleeding. One patient had four or five lesions.”
During the first 24 hours, she worked non-stop, with other Haitian doctors who came by to help. “… we were one anesthesiologist, one orthopedist, me and one nurse to do the whole job,” she said. She estimated that they treated about 120 people that day and about 1,500 since then. About 350 of the patients needed serious surgery. They were running out of supplies, but Degand’s daughter arrived from France with more.
Haitians Helping Themselves
During the three days that Haiti waited for international help, Haitians helped themselves. In a suburb of Petionville, a sports bar was converted to a help center, feeding people every day.
- “We don’t believe in sitting around and waiting for outside help. We can help ourselves,” said Clifford Rouzeau, 43, one of three owners.
They used all their supplies and were unable to pay their employees, who nevertheless, dontated their time to prepare food and clean up. They plan to keep offering free meals as long as they can get enough food items to do it. They have been making spaghetti, rice and beans, and cornmeal. “It’s a lot of work. Our kitchen is not designed for this,” Rouzeau said.
Medical Workers Improvising
Haitian medical students in Cuba returned to help, and without any electricity, they used the light of their cell phones at night to see. They had volunteers cleaning wounds and emptying bedpans. Diapers were donated and delivered by someone unknown.
When the hospital ran out of alcohol for sterilization during surgeries, someone sent a supply of vodka. (Vodka is 98 percent pure food-grade alcohol, a type of alcohol that can be bought in U.S. liquor stores as grain alcohol. It is just as effective as the traditional isopropyl alcohol.)
“For sure, Haitians have been helping Haitians. Some patients have gone in and out of the operating theater eight times,” said Dr. Degand. Many injuries have been complex and repeated surgeries have been necessary to save limbs. She has had her recovering patients sleeping on mattresses in a tent pitched in the middle of the street.
Humanity is resourceful when it has to be. Americans responded on 9/11 with similar courage and creativeness, running back into the collapsed buildings repeatedly to search for survivors. Some rescuers have sustained permanent lung damage because of breathing so much smoke that contained carcinogens like asbestos, benzene and dioxins.