12 February 2010

Hopital Sacre Coeur Update

Update on the situation from Hopital Sacre Coeur from an interview in Catholic New York with Dr. Peter Kelly.

There were a few days right after the earthquake struck in Port-au-Prince that one of Haiti's best hospitals, Sacre Coeur, just 70 miles away in Milot, intact, fully equipped and operational, was eerily quiet.

Only a couple of helicopters a day landed while the ready staff anxiously waited, scanning the sky for incoming patients. People trapped under tons of rubble languished days before international rescue teams could be deployed. Debris-blocked roads made travel nearly impossible.

The unsettling quietude didn't last. Soon enough the helicopters started coming en force bringing with them the maimed, the sick and the dying.

Sacre Coeur has long since breached its own boundaries turning the entire town, with the support of its mayor, into an extended hospital to treat Haiti's earthquake survivors. The hospital, which normally holds 60 patients, has taken over two schools. A portable tent hospital, purchased for $300,000 through the financial and logistical support of the Order of Malta's American Association and Caritas Christi, a New England network of Catholic hospitals, has been flown in from Florida and erected, increasing capacity to 300 beds. A nearby soccer field has been transformed into a heliport and local residents, often very poor themselves, have taken the families of patients into their homes.

As of Feb. 9, Sacre Coeur was treating almost 400 patients with more arriving daily by helicopter and increasingly by road. The staff of 250, including 60 nurses and 20 doctors, has been augmented by an influx of professional volunteers from the United States, some 90 as of last week, including nurses and top orthopedic, trauma and general surgeons.

"The doctors and nurses down there are working 16 to 20 hour days," said Dr. Peter Kelly, a Knight of Malta who is president of the CRUDEM Foundation, which operates the hospital. The CRUDEM Foundation is a work of and partially funded by the American Association of the Order of Malta and also receives funding and volunteers from the order's Federal and Western associations.

Dr. Kelly, invested as a knight in the order in 1998, had just returned from Haiti Jan. 31 for a respite after a frenetic tour of duty in the vortex of Haiti's cataclysm. He spoke to CNY from CRUDEM's headquarters in Ludlow, Mass., via conference call to the order's American Association headquarters at the New York Catholic Center. He expects to return to Haiti in March.

"A lot of them don't get to bed until two or three o'clock in the morning and they're up again at seven to start the next day," he said of the hospital's staff and volunteers. "We did over 300 major operations the week I was there. That's an amazing number of operations to do in that short period of time."

Up to a dozen helicopters a day have been landing at Sacre Coeur giving Milot the look of a vast MASH Unit. Local high school students and boy scouts, trained as stretcher-bearers, meet the incoming choppers. Dr. Kelly said they've gotten the drill down so well that they can usually transfer the patients from the helicopters to the triage area within five minutes.

"Luckily the two teams that were down there right after the earthquake, one was a trauma team and the other was an orthopedic team, both the leaders of those teams were ex-military and that helped us get organized pretty quickly," he explained.

Dr. Kelly told CNY that the patients that are currently arriving are much sicker than the ones who arrived earlier. "Now what we're getting are patients that have been lying in the streets of Port-au-Prince for, it's going on three weeks, with fractures and crush injuries that have not been cared for and now they're getting septic, serious infections and they're coming in really, really sick."

Most of the medical volunteers are seeing horrific war-like injuries on a massive scale the first time. The workload, emotional stress and physical exhaustion takes a toll on volunteers who are rotated out every week. The Haitian staff is dealing with the added anguish of looking for lost loved ones in Port-au-Prince.

Faith, Dr. Kelly said, is what is holding his team together. "I think we all have very strong faith," he said. "One of the things that has been a big benefit is, there was a priest on our team (Father James Bromwich) from Kentucky and he had Mass at seven every morning and that was a tremendous source of strength for all the volunteers. He's a nurse as well. When the helicopters came in, he'd roll up his sleeves and start taking care of the patients as a nurse. He is a wonderful guy."

Dr. Kelly, a graduate of Notre Dame, is an ophthalmologist. He has volunteered at Sacre Coeur since 1993 and joined the board of the CRUDEM Foundation in 1999. He has been board president since 2006. During his time with Sacre Coeur he has seen the damage wrought by hurricanes, but he said nothing prepared him for this.

"It is indescribable," he acknowledged. "The pictures on the news don't do it justice."

Sacre Coeur has remained well stocked with medicines and provisions because the hospital is close to Cap Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, which suffered little damage in the earthquake and has a functioning airport. Right after the quake, Philips Medical Services sent a planeload of equipment and two employees to assemble it and train the staff. Medical supplies are trucked in to the hospital daily.

Financial donations have also been flowing in. Dr. Kelly says they are now approaching $1 million since the earthquake struck. At a capital campaign fund-raiser for the Malta Human Services Foundation in New York City Jan. 26, benefactors J.J. and Janet Cafaro, who will be invested into the Order of Malta in November, contributed $200,000 in immediate emergency support for the hospital.

"People have been wonderful," Dr. Kelly stressed. "We've received a significant amount of money in private donations. We are blessed with the donors we have and we're happy with what we've got. But we're certainly going to have a greater need because now we're going to have to enlarge our hospital to accommodate the services we've started to perform during this catastrophe."

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