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In the weeks since the Jan. 12 earthquake, several University-affiliated physicians have gone to Haiti, providing first-wave emergency care, while those on campus continue to raise funds to support relief efforts.

Six members of the Brown community — five faculty members and one local nurse and midwife — traveled to Haiti after the quake, according to the University's Haiti relief Web site, and three have since returned.

"It was total chaos," Amos Charles, clinical associate professor of medicine, said of the week he spent in Haiti immediately after the earthquake. "You had patients with everything."

Charles, a Haitian pulmonologist who does not perform surgeries in the U.S., exercised only an administrative role at the General Hospital in Port-au-Prince, organizing the massive number of patients into units that doctors could manage.

"You stand in the middle of all that as a physician, and you say ‘I cannot help,' " Charles said. Because doctors could not process the many patients constantly streaming from the five operating rooms at the hospital, Charles created a postoperative unit to create order.

After Charles placed patients into beds, the three aftershocks that took place while he was there interrupted his work. Patients "ran out of the unit" during each of the aftershocks, afraid to be under a roof during the seismic activity, he said.

After each shock, some patients would refuse to come back inside, and he needed to completely reorganize the system. Post-traumatic stress affected many patients, causing them to panic at anything earthquake-related, Charles said. He once caused a loud noise when he moved a bed, and several patients got up and ran from the building.

About an hour-and-a-half drive from Port-au-Prince, at a 25-year-old Partners in Health hospital in Cange, Assistant Professors of Surgery Stephen Sullivan and Helena Taylor faced much better conditions.

The married couple, who specialize in plastic surgery, were in Haiti from Jan. 16 to 23, performing surgeries on "a whole mix of patients, well over 200," according to Sullivan.
He said the "surgical conditions there were not terrible," and that his group was able to operate on crushed and broken extremities, repair bones and perform amputations without a single patient death from surgical complications.

"All of us need to function under the premise that we would provide the same quality of care there as we do in the U.S.," Taylor said, explaining that even though she saw more patients in Haiti than she normally does in Providence, she still strove for a high success rate.

Conversely, Charles said, "Some of the people (in Port-au-Prince) were there for five days and hadn't eaten." While Charles was in Haiti, he slept outside every night, since there were no safe buildings available to him in the city.

The doctors had strong connections to Haiti before the earthquake. Charles was born and raised there, and he has family who still lives there. One of Charles' more distant relatives was killed in the earthquake.

Sullivan had spent a year in Haiti with Partners in Health. "To me, it's sort of a second home," he said.

All three said they felt compelled to travel to Haiti and provide services as soon as they heard of the crisis.

"It was fairly obvious that we had to go," Taylor said.

The University supported their efforts, though Charles said that when he left on Jan. 16, the situation was still too chaotic for Brown to provide systematized support.
Sullivan and Taylor, though, departed for Haiti with surgical supplies donated from the Brown community, and their contracts allow them to spend a week in Haiti every three months, Sullivan said.

Matthew Gutmann, vice president for international affairs and co-chair of the Haiti Crisis Response Committee, said the Brown community has been putting forth great effort to support Haiti.

"There is so much desire to help," he said.

Recent fundraising events at Brown have netted thousands of dollars for relief efforts, including $2,600 raised for Partners in Health at Saturday's open mic, The Herald reported Monday. The fraternity Zeta Delta Xi threw a "Pulp Friction" party the same night. About 300 people came, raising $1,300, Daniel Oviedo '10, the fraternity's president, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.

The Brown community has a long-standing connection to Haiti, which might leave it better poised to continue its strong commitment to Haiti in the coming months, Gutmann said. Brown's two-year Haitian Creole program is unique, since few universities offer the language. Visiting Lecturer in Latin American Studies Patrick Sylvain, who teaches those courses, is working on a textbook for the language.

The Alpert Medical School has pre-existing exchange programs with Haiti, which Gutmann said might expand to include bringing more Haitian medical students to Providence for rounds.

Gutmann said that he hopes interest in Haiti continues in the coming months, and he underscored the attempts his committee is making to "keep Brown involved long-term."

"I am concerned that it's not going to be on the front page anymore," Gutmann said.
Even if community interest in Haiti wanes, Charles, Sullivan and Taylor plan to continue their work in Haiti — all three have trips planned to go back. Charles leaves for the Dominican Republic Feb. 7 and plans to cross the border into Haiti with a group of medical students.


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