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January 17th, 2010
03:27 PM ET

An amazing survivor

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent

Nine-year-old Sende Sancil arrived at this makeshift hospital on the United Nations compound in Port-au-Prince with large gashes on her face, a horribly swollen knee, and green hair clips that matched perfectly with the green checks on her gingham shirt.

Survivor Sende Sancil hopes to reunite with her family.

Survivor Sende Sancil hopes to reunite with her family.

I know the clips are sort of a strange thing for me to notice, but they caught my eye immediately. I have four daughters, and so I know it takes effort to get everything to line up just right. Sende’s coordinated outfit tells me that on the morning of the earthquake, her mom or dad took a lot of care with her. I imagine how they lovingly braided her hair and found clips that matched her shirt, which appears to be part of a school uniform. I imagine how her parents said goodbye to her as she left for school on Tuesday.

Sende says when the earthquake hit Tuesday afternoon she was in a car and her parents were at home Maybe the earthquake separated Sende from her parents and they’re still alive somewhere, or maybe they’re dead. No one knows, but for an injured child all alone in a chaotic hospital filled with the sounds of pain and suffering, Sende is an amazing survivor. She’s calm and smiles at me when I come by to say hello (or maybe she’s laughing at my accent when I say “Bon jour!”).

Every day I’ve been here, I’ve prayed that today will be the day Sende’s parents come in, relieved to have finally found her, and they will lovingly take her in their arms, just as they lovingly picked out a matching shirt and hair clips for her to wear on Tuesday morning.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 17th, 2010
11:17 AM ET

Makeshift Haiti hospital

By John Bonifield
CNN Medical Producer

For a while they were throwing limbs of the dead in the trash. A human foot and arm mixed amongst the garbage. If there was ever any semblance of dignity here at this makeshift hospital on the United Nations compound near the airport in Port-au-Prince, it is quickly vanishing.

Dr. Jennifer Furin

Dr. Jennifer Furin

I just watched aid workers remove a dead body from a warehouse tent that is being used to triage survivors from the earthquake. This was the fourth person to die since midnight, and right now it’s only 9am.

“I have no morgue. I have no place to put dead bodies,” says Dr. Jennifer Furin, a physician from Harvard Medical School who is coordinating care in one of two hospital tents here.

“This is becoming the killing field,” she says.

The injuries I am seeing here could be managed in the United States. But here in Haiti they’re starting to kill. Some people are dying from overwhelming infection. Others from a chemical reaction in their bodies called rhabdomyolysis. When a wall or chunk of concrete falls on a person, their muscles are crushed and the body releases an enzyme that poisons the kidneys. If the injured limb is not amputated or surgically cleaned out they die.

Doctors here have been using IV fluids to protect patients from kidney failure, but they haven’t had any anesthesia to perform surgeries until today.

“This is the beginning,” says Dr. Furin. “We missed our window. Maybe not for all of them, but for many of them.”

Dr. Furin refuses to let her hospital tent become any more undignified than the situation here is making it. She’s ordered all of the doctors working in it not to dispose of any more dead limbs in the trash. Instead, she’s found a plastic bin that she's placed next to her, where the remains will go until they can be properly buried.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


January 17th, 2010
10:21 AM ET

The only doc

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Louise Ivers, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, was at a meeting of the World Food Program in a United Nations building in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. She escaped to the building’s driveway unharmed. Within minutes of her arrival 350 injured Haitians gathered in her driveway, looking for medical help.

Ivers was the only doctor.

“It was overwhelming,” she says. “Several people bled to death while I tried to treat them. One girl’s skin was ripped off her hand and forearm, and you could see all the muscles and tendons. Then a father handed me a baby who was minutes away from dying, and I had to say ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.’”

Ivers, the country director for Haiti for Partners in Health and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, got to work. She and Kim Cullen, her research assistant, set out to find materials they could turn into medical supplies.

“We ripped license plates off cars to use as splints. We took shirts off of people to use as tourniquets,” Ivers says.

Early the next morning, Ivers heard about a makeshift clinic with about fifty patients in a tent on the United Nations compound next to the
Port-au-Prince airport.  She gathered together about 100 of the injured people she’d been treating, and set out for the clinic.

“I thought this was going to be an actual clinic with doctors,” she says. “But when I got there, I asked who was in charge, and someone said ‘Toi’ – you, you’re in charge. I said, ‘Really?’”

Again, she was the only doctor.

About fifty more patients arrived that night, bringing the total to about 200. A few physicians came and went for short periods, but she was basically on her own.

“It was overwhelming, the amount of trauma and injuries. I’ve worked in Haiti for seven years and I’ve never seen such suffering,” Ivers says. “To be a human being and see such suffering is bad enough, but to be a doctor and have no tools, no pain medication, is a horrible, horrible feeling.”

Finally, Wednesday at 5pm, help arrived in the form of Dr. Enrique Ginzburg and Dr. Daniel Pust, trauma surgeons from the University of Miami.

“For the first time, I thought to myself, ‘maybe these people have a chance,’” she says.

At 2 am Thursday, Ivers rested. She’d gone 48 hours without sleeping, eating, or even sitting down.

How did she handle being the only doc?

“I don’t know,” she says. “I think automatic mode kicks in.”

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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