February 18, 2010, ST. LOUIS - Caleb Trent, MD, first learned about the crushing poverty and desperate need in Haiti during a mission trip there while in medical school. The trip inspired him to help found a not-for-profit organization, Aid For Haiti (AFH).
When a massive earthquake hit the country on Jan. 12, Dr. Trent, now a resident physician in the emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, began planning to travel to Haiti and offer whatever help he could.
Within two weeks, Dr. Trent and fellow Barnes-Jewish emergency resident Chet Schrader, MD, were on their way. They flew into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, because the airport at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was closed.
Taking a series of cars in a 10-hour trip across the island, they made their way to Petite Goave, a town of about 170,000 in the mountains west of Port-au-Prince, where AFH provides aid. As they progressed through the country, they began to realize the almost unimaginable scale of the disaster.
“I think what really opened my eyes was as we traveled and went further, and saw more damaged areas, you suddenly realized the scope of this,” Dr. Schrader said. “That’s what was eye-opening to me.”
“So, if you’ve been to a third-world country, you can imagine,” Dr. Trent said. “Then you have to add to that a disaster that’s not like things you have seen before – buildings that are just pulverized, sheets of concrete that have been laid down like a blanket. And realize that that has affected every person you talk to.”
When they reached Petite Goave, Dr. Trent and Dr. Schrader found more devastation. The hospital there was damaged, with both operating rooms destroyed. They set up what was essentially an emergency room for the area, and were soon seeing about 400 patients a day, including people who were seeking medical care for the first time since the quake.
Injuries included open fractures, lacerations and crushed limbs. Dr. Trent said one of the most memorable patients he saw was a beggar who had been walking for two weeks with an open fracture of two of his fingers. By the time Dr. Trent saw him, the man needed both fingers amputated.
Dr. Trent said that all he could do was clean the wound and stabilize it, and then transfer the man to the larger town of Leogane, where the orthopedic surgeons could perform the amputation. Dr. Trent worries, however, about the man being able to receive the follow-up care he’ll need.
Dr. Schrader said that many of the people he saw had initially received appropriate emergency care. But most didn’t know how to care for their injuries after that. Dr. Schrader treated scores of people who didn’t know that they needed to change dressing on their wounds and now suffered from severe infections.
“While there was this initial outpouring of support immediately after the earthquake,” Dr. Schrader, “I think there’s this lack of continuation of care that’s going to happen. And that’s what we saw firsthand.”
Dr. Trent and Dr. Schrader are doing what they can to keep the care going as long as possible. Several Barnes-Jewish emergency nurses, residents and Washington University attending physicians have volunteered to provide care throughout April.
Administration at both the hospital and university have been supportive of the efforts (although policies at both institutions require that volunteers use vacation or earned time off hours for their trips to Haiti), said Dr. Trent and Dr. Schrader.
The emergency department has been able to donate some supplies and individuals have made contributions, too, they said. But supplies and equipment, such as a portable ultrasound machine for example, are in desperately short supply.
The future of Haiti remains unclear, said Dr. Trent. But he hopes to continue to make a difference there, he said.
To see photos and read a blog about Dr. Trent and Dr. Schrader in Haiti, go to www.aidforhaiti.org.