Monday, February 22, 2010

NY Docs, Nurses Angry as Haitian Boy Dies After Surgeon Fails to Show Up

By James Gordon Meek/

Dr. Rob Gore says his volunteer work was frustrating because a lack of equipment - it gets stolen - means that patients who would recover in the U.S. don't survive in Haiti.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - At the quake-ruptured downtown General Hospital, life and absurdly pointless death often amount to a coin toss.

That's what a small team of heroic emergency medicine doctors and nurses from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, found in Haiti as they worked as volunteer angels of mercy.

Hundreds of destitute Haitians - many seriously ill or injured - greeted them in a long line at dawn last week. Hundreds more lay on cots in Army tents, or on dilapidated hospital beds set up in a plaza after the Jan. 12 earthquake, which killed more than 200,000.

Dr. Christina Bloem, 33, found a 4-year-old boy on the edge of death at 7:20 a.m. Friday. His intestines had been blocked for days, said Bloem, an emergency room doctor at Kings County Hospital and SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which serve Brooklyn's Haitian community.

Bloem and her friend Dr. Kari Scantlebury, 32, of Washington grew furious that the surgeon on call - a European volunteer - had not shown up.

"The surgeon is nowhere to be found," fumed Scantlebury, who trained at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan.

"You need to get him down here or this kid is going to die," Bloem barked at an orderly outside a U.S. Army tent set up as a trauma bay.

"I want his belly opened," Scantlebury chimed in.

The volunteer doctors faced a devil of a choice: Send the boy elsewhere or hope the surgeon showed up before it was too late.

Just over an hour later, an Army ambulance rolled away, carrying the boy with the blocked intestine to a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders.

"I think he'll be okay," Bloem said hopefully.

The boy died before he could reach an operating table at the second hospital.

The Brooklyn doctors never learned his name.

Bloem was working her last hours here before returning to New York.

Leaning against a wall so she wouldn't pass out from exhaustion, Bloem said walking away from this tide of misery made her "feel guilty."

Still, she said, she was proud of her team that had "kicked ass."

Dr. Rob Gore, who came to Haiti with EMEDEX, the group of medical volunteers Bloem founded, compared the experience to meatball medicine in a war zone.

Some victims are not "salvageable" in a makeshift hospital that has neither oxygen nor respirators because both are stolen.

"The humanistic aspects of medicine get thrown out the door because you don't have the capacity to do what you've been taught," the dreadlocked doc told the Daily News.

Dr. Ernest Garnier, 36, was born at SUNY Downstate to Haitian parents and is now on staff there.

"I try to give them a little hope," he said of his fellow countrymen who have lost everything.

Volunteer Dr. Kari Scantlebury tries to save a boy dying of intestinal blockage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A surgeon failed to show up on time to operate, and the boy later died.

Source: NDN

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