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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.”

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soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. Susan Venters

    I was so shaken to hear about several nurses and other medical professionals who were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake and chose to leave as quickly as possible instead of stay and help. What on earth were they thinking. Its so sad to see all of those people without medical persons to help. and they all just left as soon as they could.

    January 17, 2010 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Robyn

    Dr. Ivers, you are a brave and strong person and I know the people of Haiti will remember you forever as a saviour to them. It is amazing to see how much of a difference one person can make... now only if the rest of the world could be as strong and selfless as you. God bless.

    January 17, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Barb

    This Doctor (Ivers) is a true hereo in this horrible situation. She worked at the core level and wasn't there to be filmed or to score a picture; she was helping beyond what many of us could ever comprehend or be able to do.

    January 17, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. ncgal

    There is a name for you: ANGEL. You have put the HUMAN back into humanity. thank you. You are the hero's of this world. god bless!!

    January 17, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Brenda

    Amazing! Dr. Ivers is a hero! She didnt worry so much about herself but humanity and morality was displayed as she encountered the horrific scenes. She overcame the fear and the feelings of helplessness and let her true bravery show when she took her patients to a clinic. She never abandoned these people. For those that die, they died with a little bit of comfort and hope that Dr. Ivers gave to them as they waited for help.

    January 17, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Randy Beaubrun

    I am Haitian, I live in the States and I am also in the Medical field. When I was reading your story Dr. Ivers, I could not help but to think despite of all that you were doing, how helpless you felf... I simply want to thank you for all you have done! May God bless you.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Khoe Bach

    Thank you so much for your heroic work, Dr. Ivers. Your selflessness and compassion will live on your ever.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Robert McAlpine

    The deepest respect of all of us go out to people like Dr. Louise Ivers who did their best under terrible and frightening conditions. It would have been possible to walk away; but she did not do that.

    As a paramedic, I have a sense of the feelings she must have had. I never hesitated to rush to a an automobile containing trauma casualties when I had an ambulance loaded with equipment and a trauma kit in my hand. But when I stopped at an accident and rushed to the car without that back-up, I had a feelings of fear and dread realizing that I could only do very limited things to help. That feeling must have been overwhelming for Dr. Ivers, and yet she did not allow that to stop her. She is what all of us would want to be.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. maria

    i've worked at a level one trauma center for 15 years. also a part of the disaster\hazmat team. i would have given anything to be there to help. very frustrating to watch with the rest of the word when so many have the capability to assist you and those working tirelessly to help the Haitian people. God bless you all.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. sharon

    This is so sad . The devastation is mind-boggling. The doctors and nurses and rescuers are real heroes, even though there will be casualties. They are probably exhausted. Sanjay is an amazing human, publicizing the call for help on behalf of the Haitans. May G-d bless him with eternity for his selflessness.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Abigail Davis

    We regularly think of firefighters and police officers of heroes, but doctors and nurses rarely make that mental list. This crisis has shown us that doctors are heroes - of epic proportions.

    Dr. Ivers, Dr. Gupta, and countless others did not think twice to put aside personal well being to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and provide care to the most needy.

    I'm sure I am not alone in offering heartfelt thanks. You are my heroes.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. IL-for-Haiti

    The bravery of people such as Dr. Ivers is beyond reward, there is truly no way to fully thank such people for the effort and kindness they give of themselves to human beings in need. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you've done for people in such a desperate situation as those currently in Haiti.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Erik Van Norstrand

    To all doctors in haiti,

    You have all of our prayers and we are doing our best to support the recovery effort from at home!

    Erik

    January 17, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Rita Nalette

    I am in awe that CNN reporters remember that first they are humans. It seems you all have taken an oath to first do no harm. You have not violated the dignity of the people you cover. I don't have the right words. but, thank you.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. sindy belizaire

    I love you for doing all the thing that you are doing for Haiti. i'm in the Medical Field too i wanted to volunteer but i'm in Boston i'm trying to raise some funds to go to haiti myself. I think you. i thank you.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Phil

    In the midst of such strategy it is heart warming to hear of a doctor who battled through extreme adversity to provide care for people in true need.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Mohammad Shayya, Beirut

    So painful that billions of dollars spent by super powers on wars and weapons were n't there in Haiti! Shame on power and politics!

    January 17, 2010 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Netta

    For every horror story, like the doctors leaving their patients at the UN's orders there are ten stories of hero's like this one. Thank you for reporting one of the good ones.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Melanie M Mariner

    Out of extreme adversity heroes are made. Dr. Louise Ivers and also Dr. Sanjay Gupta have risen to the challenge. Instead of running away and saying "I can't do this" they stood their ground as others ran away and saved lives.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. TrueHeroes

    I wish that I were a physician so I could go to Haiti and help those dazed, wounded, hurting patients. The few physicians who chose to remain and to help the people, at great inconvenience and peril to their own lives, are the unsung heroes of the world.

    Why don't we profile these true heroes? I am tired of seeing the likes of athletes, musicians, beauty pageant queens, etc. held up as role models. Compared to true heroes, the latter group has done little to make a difference in our world.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. steve

    This is just another heartbreaking but at the same time heroic story. This may seem like an odd question, but with so many broken bones, lacerations, and other trauma caused by this earthquake, are there ample supplies of morphine to be administered and are there supplies of handout pain killers (hydrocodone, oxycondone, fentanyl patches) to go around. Are these people in these clinics having to endure severe pain? My heart breaks thinking their physical pain can't be relieved, I know the emotional pain will go on for years.

    Of all the stories I've read I have not heard much pain medicine supplies and distribution.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Otto

    Some news makes people cry; to be human and to see the distruction of such magnitude, breaks my heart.

    This Doctor did what she could because it was her calling and God bless her. Hopefully, many will live because of what she did.

    A great big shout out to all, who are placing their lives in danger to hellp those less fortunate. Big up!

    January 17, 2010 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Ben

    Thank you Dr. Ivers for what you did. We are so thankful for people like you.

    January 17, 2010 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Sandra

    Dear Dr. Ivers, You have done everything humanly possible with the circumstance at hand. You will be respected for all of your work and efforts. How does one keep on keeping on? I guess by knowing This too shall pass. Our hearts and prayers are with you and the other doctors and medical help as well as the patients.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. shaneka

    i would like to commend dr. ivers on her bravery, and the way how she take charge in a situation like that. i am praying for her and the haitians.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. JosCarl

    Real Role Models:

    These are real role models! Their good works glistens from the heart!

    January 17, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Chris

    48 hrs without rest, food, or even sitting down. WOW! And to do all this without the proper medical supplies. You're the best!

    January 17, 2010 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Joy

    Dr. Ivers you are the example of all the good in our world.
    Elizabeth Cohen, Dr. Gupta and the CNN team thank you so much for amazing work of sharing this with us.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Elena from Russia

    From the bottom of my heart, Thank you, Dr. Ivers, what you did. I wish I could shake your hand and say all this personally.
    Such people like you are reference for me.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Dave ivers

    Am so proud to call you my sister. U rock.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Joshua Jean

    Dr.Ivers and Wyclef should be nominated for nobel peace prize that is amazing.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. BarbP

    Go to the Web site of the organization that Dr. Ivers is associated with, Partners In Health, http://www.pih.org, to read more about their awe-inspiring work in helping Haiti quake victims! They ran 10 hospitals and clinics in rural areas of Haiti prior to the quake, and those facilities were largely undamaged; they're now treating many, many injured, both there and in Port-au-Prince. They've got a supply chain up and running through the Dominican Republic, they've brought in planeloads of surgeons and medical supplies... their miraculous work goes on and on.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. S. McNeil

    I agree that the medical personnel who chose to stay and give what care and comfort they could under horrific conditions are true heroes. We need to hold up these role models to our youth, instead of saturating their souls with trivia like pop culture, fashion, and mindless greed. CNN and other major media outlets can make huge differences in our world view and the future development of our culture - if they choose to do so.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Nancy

    May god bless Dr. Ivers and continue to hold her up.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. K.Z.Khan M.D

    Dr.Ivers is the real hero that cnn likes us to vote about, she gets my vote.where in the world were UN and Doctors without borders!!!

    January 17, 2010 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Tammy

    Thank you so much to all the doctors, nurses, and even laymen, who are trying their best to help all around them during this dreadful time. You give us all hope that the world can be a better place!

    January 17, 2010 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. P Jewers in Canada

    I hope that the people in these stories are HONOURED in some way for doing more then what could do in saving lives....

    January 17, 2010 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Kristin

    Dr Ivers is the true definition of compassion, caring and courage. I applaud her heroism and resilience as with all of the members of Partner in Health, The best way you can show support for her is by donating to the medical charity she works with Partners In Health http://www.standwithhaiti.org/haiti

    January 17, 2010 at 13:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. German

    Dr. Louise Ivers May God Bless You with heaven and give you happiness all the days of your life. Thanks for your service.

    January 17, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Shannon

    Dr. Ivers, you're a true hero. I have no doubt that modern medicine does not always prepare a doctor for such conditions as an earthquake-ravaged country. Your resourcefulness and dedication to patients in a time of chaos speaks volumes. Thank goodness you survived and were able to help so many. I'm sure even those who died of their injuries were comforted by your presence in the face of such turmoil.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Anany Gretchko

    Hello doc Louise
    Since the last 6 years you were able to donate your person to help the people of Plateau Central and low Artibonite to have better health care. Once again here you are on the ground helping our fellow Haitian. this is called a vocation
    whole team of Zanmi Lasante / Partners In Heath was very proud and grateful for this solidarity.
    nou se yon ekip solid
    humbly
    G

    January 17, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Paz

    Stories like this make us realize how selfless the human being can be.
    It gives hope, between all the disaster.

    God Bless

    January 17, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. maria

    Dr.Ivers may God bless you for all you are doing in Haiti . I cant imagine what you must be feeling ,you are a true hero. I hope that the supplies and the human help that you need gets to you with god speed.GOD BLESS YOU.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. sandy

    THANK YOU DR. Ivers, for everything you have done for my people. may God be with you and your family at all times.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. E-Dom Rep

    Beautiful story!! Many volunteer doctors are also working at a small hospital in the border town of Jimani in the Dominican Republic. Have not seen any news about these great people who are receiving hundreds of earthquake victims a day and working with medicines and equipment donated by the dominican people.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. MD

    Just to prove that even one doctor counts!
    As we see how she was saved to save other lives !

    January 17, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. suzanne allard montour

    TrueHeroes, I agree with you all the way...!!!!!

    January 17, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Dennis

    God Bless Dr Ivers and those like her! There will be many, many heroes come out of this very major disaster. There is far more good in people than bad and it really comes to light during disasters like this. I feel so helpless in my wonderful home, well rested and fed when so many in Haiti are hurting such as they are today. It just breaks my heart!

    January 17, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. maggie schneider

    To Dr. Ivers and all the medical staff who are saving Haitians. Thank you. You remind us once again that one or a few persons can make such an incredible difference on a moment's notice. May angels protect you as you minister to all those in need. May you have the strength to continue your vital work in the days ahead.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. annie douzable

    As I sat here at work and read this it brought tears to my eyes and melted my heart. I am a native haitian but am now american naturalized and I'm filled with grief but this story brought hope into my life. To read about Dr. Louise Ivers whom not only risk her life by being there in Haiti but also took charge and maintained composure in the mist of a castrophe. I not only have love for her but a whole lot of respect for Dr.Louise Ivers. This woman lives up to the medical pledge that she swore to when she became a doctor and I just wish most people would look at the courageous act that she had done and help too. L’union Fait La Force – together we are strong!

    January 17, 2010 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.