University of Chicago medical team in place for Haitian relief effort

University of Chicago medical team in place for Haitian relief effort

January 25, 2010

A team of three physicians, two nurses and 1,100 pounds of medical, surgical and pharmaceutical supplies arrived in the Dominican Republic on Monday, January 25, on their way to the small mountain town of Jimani, on the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where they will help staff a hospital that has been overrun with refugees and displaced persons from the earthquake that devastated Haiti.

The hospital there, now surrounded by a city of tents, has 10 operating rooms and hundreds of post-operative cases, mostly amputations and complex fractures with external fixations. These require extensive follow-up care. Much of that care will be delivered in makeshift quarters, including tents.

The University of Chicago team will serve for two weeks and then be supplemented and gradually replaced by a back-up team, also based out of the University. After that, teams of five to eight members will alternate every two weeks, at least through the end of February. Members of the next teams to deploy are being selected and vaccinated.

More than 100 volunteers stepped up for the opportunity to help, said team-leaders Christian Theodosis and Chrissy Babcock, emergency medicine physicians at the University of Chicago Medical Center. But the relief agencies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic had very specific requests for personnel and medical supplies.

"Surgical and post-operative care providers and those, especially Haitians, fluent in Haitian Creole, were on the top of the list," said Theodosis. "These immediate needs, for trauma and orthopaedic teams, will shift as the initial flurry of crush injuries and broken bones evolves into wound complications, infections and other public health issues," he added.

"We will tailor our follow-up teams to match the medical needs in the field," said Babcock, who plans to join her colleagues in Jimani next week.

Members of the initial Jimani team are: team leader, emergency medicine specialist Christian Theodosis, MD; chief medical officer, anesthesiologist Richard Cook, MD; orthopaedic surgeon Rex Haydon, MD; Nichole Muse, RN, neonatal intensive care nurse at the Medical Center; and Elvire LaPlanche, RN, an intensive care unit nurse from South Shore Hospital. Both nurses are from Haiti and speak fluent French and Haitian Creole.

Theodosis and Babcock worked with non-governmental agencies on the ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to make the connections, assess exactly what the needs were, and select and equip the first team. Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Wilson and Associate Dean for Global Health Funmi Olopade allocated the resources.

Information technology specialist Michael Sorensen helped with supplies and, perhaps most important, connected the team with the Holt family of Kenilworth, who offered to fly the team down in their private jet. This enabled the medical team to carry far more supplies than a commercial flight would allow.

The University of Chicago is also helping other hospitals in the Chicago area connect with relief agencies in the field and pulling together teams from multiple sites. They arranged for a second team of three emergency medicine physicians from North Shore University Health System, Northwestern University and Johns Hopkins University, to be deployed to a hospital in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. That team also left on January 25.

A separate team of plastic and reconstructive surgeons from the Medical Center will follow February 6 with a pre-arranged humanitarian visit to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, which they do every year. Although they typically focus on children with birth defects, this year they expect to provide care for patients flown in from border clinics.

"We are making a major commitment to this recovery effort," said Olopade, director of the University's Global Health Initiative and an expert on global patterns of cancer risk. "This isn't just one medical team for a week or two. We plan on making a lasting contribution in responding to the development needs of our poorest neighbor in the western hemisphere."