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. Fred

    It's now 5 days after the earthquake hit, why are there not more medical people on the ground? Why hasn't he US deployed more?
    When I left the Government clinic where I'm working, as of 5pm Friday, the Medical personnel who are assigned to deploy in situations like this, have yet to be notified to go. Why not? Did we learn nothing from Katrina?
    How many thousands more are going to die because of the slow response?
    All I've heard are excuses, the airport is backed, the port is damaged, etc. We have the capabilty to get people there, why haven't we?

    January 17, 2010 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. J

    Dr. Ivers is a true hero. It's people like her that children should look up to, not those jokers who play sports and earn millions of dollars.

    Speaking of that, I hope some of those so-called heroes step up and donate some money.

    January 17, 2010 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Paddy D

    Physicians like Dr. Ivers and CNN's own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who do what they can, with virtually nothing, under impossible conditions, restore my faith in the medical professions. I am EMT qualified, and but for my medical condition, would be there now myself if I could. Anyone who can see and read about the conditions in Haiti and not feel deeply for those people has no heart and no soul. I'm on fixed and small income, but what would normally be my beer money has now gone to Haiti. The breweries will survive without my bucks, but some Haitians might not.

    January 17, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Joi

    Keep up the good work doc but please do not become burnt out.
    God Bless

    January 17, 2010 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. JGM

    You do what you have to do in a trauma environment. While I commend Dr. Ivers and all others who assisted the injured in this disaster, her story highlights the obvious, everyone should be trained in emergency medical treatment .

    January 17, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. vawini

    wow!!! God bless you and thank you for doing all you can.

    January 17, 2010 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. J

    What a moving act of kindness.

    Maybe writing her a letter of thanks would be nice:

    Louise Catherine Ivers, M.D.
    Brigham and Women's Hospital
    Social Medicine
    1620 Tremont St
    Boston, MA 02120

    January 17, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mike Cleveland

    Dr. Ivers had already dedicated years of service to Haiti and then took this overwhelming challende on without oause. She embodies the true spirit of what a doctor "should be" all about and more than fulfilled her oath this week.

    A significant international award should be given to her, not only for her herioc and tireless efforts but as a reminder to all doctors that it shouldn't always be about the money, but being caring for and serviceable to humankind in times of crisis.

    January 17, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Bhavna

    Awesome people can do awesome things, thats why God put you in the right place at the right time for the right reason..
    May You and your loved ones be blessed by your strenght and good deeds.

    January 17, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jodie Lomas

    if it is true, as Aeschylus wrote, that it is the nature of mortals to kick a fallen man, than those who rushed to care for the fallen in Haiti must be nothing short of angels......

    January 17, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Otto

    Hmmm...there are no Heros; they are the people with compassion, a sould that reaches out to those desperately in need.

    They'll tell us, they are no heros; they'll tell us they wish they could do more. They greve as those that suffers; their pain is heart renching.

    They are the doctors, nurses, and all the un-name, unknown people; who when in time of need reach out to those in need.

    They are great human beings! Bless them all!

    January 17, 2010 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. susan delean-botkin

    The effort of the doctors that were in Haiti has been tremendous. Why is the media able to bring in people so quickly, with all their expensive cameras, etc, and it took so long for medical help to arrive? Why isn't medication, medical staffing as important as the news?
    If the media does go into these tragic situations, why can't they also bring in medical support – if nothing else pain medications, and antibioitics, and water?

    January 17, 2010 at 16:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Wanesa Laroque

    Dr. Ivers deserves a medal of honor! Thank you for caring for the injured to the best of your abilities. You are a hero, and thank you again for serving in my country. God Bless!

    January 17, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. jean D

    As a haitian, I thank you so much Dr Ivers, and I thank Good for creating a person like you. we are so thankful for all those how left treir countries, their homes, and their families to risk their life to come in helping us. Because we're so poor, we for sure, cannot pay you, but we believe, even if we were the richest country in the world, We will
    not be able to do so. Because, This has no price.
    lessez nous vous dire que nous appressions boaucoup votre Help.
    Merci, et nous vous amons du plus profond de nos coeurs.

    Thanks, May Good bless each of you, your famity and your country.

    January 17, 2010 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. radha Pather

    whatever help however its given is good now in Haiti under those atrocious conditions but goodness will arise in time.

    January 17, 2010 at 17:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. kieran

    been in similar situations and its no picknick. I think you did a great and honorable thing.

    January 17, 2010 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Leslie

    Simply, thank you, Dr. Ivers.

    January 17, 2010 at 17:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jamila

    Dr. Ivers, thank you for continuing to work against the odds to save as many lives as you could under horrific conditions. For all those who don't know what compassion looks like – it looks like you. We should all donate to Partners in Health (PIH) http://www.pih.org – the organization that Dr. Ivers works with – so that they continue to serve the people of Haiti in this trying time.

    January 17, 2010 at 18:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Kat, RN

    I notice everyone thanking the doctors who have served the people of Haiti in this horrific time of need since the earthquake....but I have only seen a few posts thanking the nurses. While physicians often get the recognition...it is often the nurses that are behind the scenes working on the patients when the doctors have to attend to another patient...doing the dressing changes, administering the medications...don't ER fool you...I have only rarely seen a physician administer medications under any circumstance unless the patient is getting stitches and it's a local numbing medication. So please.....while the doctors have done a seemingly amazing job in Haiti, don't forget the nurses working in the background....enabling the physicians to be as good as they seem.

    January 17, 2010 at 18:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Dr. Stephen Fletcher

    IF Gupta can respond to this email we can provide more neurosurgical physicians down there for him.

    Dr. S Fletcher
    Peditatric Neurosurgery
    UT Medical School at Houston

    January 17, 2010 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. iTOLDuSo

    I wish our governments would pay in full for anyone meeting grade requirements to be a doctor.

    (I guess in a perfect world education would be free)

    January 17, 2010 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Ted

    I have added Dr. Ivers to my heroes list. The story made me wonder about what medical and other contributions are being made by countries with large Muslim populations. There's little hope for worldwide tolerance and respect for others If we can't work hand-in-hand during a major humanitarian crisis. I'd like to see CNN do a story about contributions being made by countries such as Pakistan or Iran or Saudia Arabia.

    January 17, 2010 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Alex ( New York)

    Dr. Ivers,
    God bless you and people like you, You are Hero of Humanity !!!

    January 17, 2010 at 19:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Stacey

    I cannot imagine anyone with a heart being able to walk away and not stay to help. The medical personnel who left need to re-think their career paths. It takes more than just head knowledge to be a great doctor or nurse. Thank you to those who are willing to put their heart into what they do.

    January 17, 2010 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. James Bach

    Dr. Ivers said it felt horrible to be a doctor and have no tools or medicine. But think about how much MORE horrible it would be if she were not a doctor at all.

    Although the situation is horrible, this was a doctor's finest hour. She was in a position where her experience and expertise could benefit so many, so profoundly, and she did not turn away from it.

    January 17, 2010 at 21:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. JZ

    Dr Ivers- you are inspirational. Stay strong. Thank you for being there and doing all that you could.

    January 17, 2010 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Betty

    What's the real story on the medical care available? AOL says a hospital ship is anchored off shore, awaiting patients. They have medical personnel, supplies, equipment, but only gets patients when shoreside hierarchy says so.
    Could this be true? Are we witnessing one-upmanship with lives?
    Oh, come on. We are there to save lives.

    January 17, 2010 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. william bryan

    it must be frustrating for Dr.Ivers and doctors on the ground that Obama could fly in Hiliary Clinton and yet the Israelis have a field hospital on the ground-not the US.
    Mr.NO Hope's regime has done no better the Katrina team.

    January 17, 2010 at 21:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Jacob

    While Dr. Ivers obviously deserves to be hailed as a hero, I do not believe we can necessarily condemn those people who chose to leave the area. The simple truth is this: not all people are heroes, if they were, we would not be so in awe of those people who are. Before we vilify those who chose to see to their own safety over others, we must ask ourselves what we would have done in their situation, and anyone who thinks it is an easy question has obviously never been in such a situation. It is a natural response to run away from danger.

    January 17, 2010 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Horace D

    It helps the soul when one reads stories like this one of Dr. Ivers or Dr Gupta when the Belgian drs left him alone. In the mids of such devastation and desolation they stand out as extraordinary humans. Thank you for working for those who need us the most.

    January 17, 2010 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. D Lopez

    Every life is valuable no matter where geographically or socioeconomically located. Thank goodness for the men and women who have put their lives in harm's way to save these precious people.

    January 17, 2010 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Roberto

    God bless you.
    The wolrd will learn from this disaster, God be with them.

    January 17, 2010 at 22:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. C

    After reading all these stories of sadness and tragedy, this story actually made me smile. I had heard about doctors who were there when the earthquake happened, and they fled, I suppose happy that they're alive. But this story is really amazing. Dr. Ivers was there, she stayed, she helped, and then she continued to help even after hope faded when she arrived at the makeshift hospital.

    She is a true hero. Thank you, Dr. Ivers, and all other doctors and people like you who are there trying their best to help out. I have the greatest respect for you.


    January 17, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. ad

    amazing doc!

    January 17, 2010 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. jack

    God bless you Dr Ivers !!

    January 17, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Kathleen Hennessey

    How about the next Nobel Prize for Medicine for the doctors who stayed and cared alone?

    January 17, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. RACHEL

    Where are the nurses? The only coverage is about "doctors". Nurses are the back bone of the health care team. You could use us. How can we arrange to come down?

    January 18, 2010 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. AlexL

    To Maria and other posted medical persons:

    "If you are interested in being a part of a medical team, please respond ASAP to esmieletter@aol.com."


    I wish I had the medical expertise to go. Please help if you can. Do whatever you can. I thank you.

    January 18, 2010 at 02:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Colleen

    The word hero doesn't seem adequate when trying to describe what Dr. Louise Ivers, her assistant Kim Cullen, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as well as the countless unnamed volunteers and regular citizens did and will continue to do. You are incredible examples of the selflessness, compassion, determination and ability to overcome insurmountable odds that are possible in all of us.

    While I do not believe we should ever judge another person's amount or inability help "for we've not walked a mile in their shoes", I truly believe we need to share the courageous and altruistic acts of others with everyone. By doing that we can help to inspire ourselves and those who's paths we cross to strive to become better people.

    Thank you for everything you are doing and my prayers go out to everyone who has been effected by this disaster.

    January 18, 2010 at 03:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Alexandra Eppinger

    Thank you to all the doctors and nurses doing their best to help the people of Haiti! Dr. Ivers, Dr. Gupta and all the others, you are the heroes of this tragedy! I hope that after this, your contribution will be recognized all over the world!
    Thank you also to CNN for bringing these stories to us all over the world, you manage to give all those nameless suffering people a face, making all of this so much more poignant (that is exactly what our German media never do, so I'm intensely grateful to all CNN reporters in Haiti).

    January 18, 2010 at 03:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Her Dad

    We were so worried that Louise was safe,but new that if so she would be in the middle of things trying her best to help.She is so deicated to her work in Haiti.We all at home love her so much and are so proud of her.Please support her by donating to Partners in Health.Louise will be there for the long haul.
    Love you Louise

    January 18, 2010 at 05:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. noeleen flood

    thank god you are safe love noeleen robert dublin

    January 18, 2010 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. April Allen

    I'm so proud of you, Auntie Louise! I'm so happy that you are safe. You are a wonderful person and I'm glad that you were able to help others that were so desperately in need. You are my hero!

    January 18, 2010 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. patrick

    Dr Louise Ivers cv is impressive, thank goodness for doctors like her;

    Louise Ivers, MD spends half her time at Partners In Health sites in Haiti, treating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, as well as providing care in the general medicine, pediatrics and malnutrition clinics there. In 2006, Dr. Ivers took on the role of Director of the Partners In Health HIV Equity Initiative in Haiti. The HIV Equity Initiative is a pioneering effort that was one of the first in the world to provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services to the destitute sick. Its success paved the way for today’s worldwide AIDS treatment efforts in Africa and other poor countries. As the New York Times noted, “No program to treat people in the poorest countries has more intrigued experts than the one started in Haiti by Partners In Health.” (11/30/03) Today, the program Dr. Ivers heads treats more than 2000 HIV/AIDS patients and monitors a total of 6000. She is also the principal investigator for research documenting the impact of targeted food assistance on the health of HIV/AIDS patients in Haiti, a critical component of PIH’s approach to care. She has also been central to PIH’s success in virtually eliminating the incidence of mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus among its patients there. Today, transmission rates are on par with those typically found in the developed world and are far lower than usually found in poor countries.

    Dr. Ivers received her MB, BCh, and BAO (with honors) in 1997 from University College in Dublin, Ireland and received a diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2002. She recently completed an Infectious Disease Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a Clinical and Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ivers completed her Masters in Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2005. She was awarded the Edward Kass Award for Clinical Excellence from the Massachusetts Infectious Disease Society in 2004.

    January 18, 2010 at 23:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Her Dad

    Absolutely fantastic story Frank – you have every right to be so proud of her. However you must have been sick with worry when you woke up that morning , knowing that she was right in the centre of the strike.
    A most marvellous set of observations from all around the world.
    Patrick R

    January 19, 2010 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. GerryV.

    Louise, knowing you and your priorities,your heroic work and dedication, and that of your collegues, comes as no surprise. Stay safe, you are loved and needed.

    January 19, 2010 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Elizabeth Schaaf

    Dr. Ivers and assistant – Thank you for your selfless labor and triumphant spirits. Please know that there are candles burning at my house and in my heart for you.

    January 19, 2010 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Bernard in Eire

    God bless you Louise, your medical colleagues and ALL the people helping out with tireless relief effort on the ground, both locals and from abroad.
    Reminds me of what someone said about Jesus: He worked all day and prayed all night.

    January 20, 2010 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Jennifer John

    HI Dr. Gupta, All of you are doing an amazing job in Haiti.
    Of course I have been concerned for everyone that was involved in the earthquake but especially the newly orphaned children. I recently adopted a child from China therefore I understand the never ending paper work and red tape that is involved with an international adoption.
    My question is why can't the governments of the world implement another "Operation Baby lift" much like President Ford created for the Vietnam War Orphans?
    I am sure that there are families that have already adopted children or in the process who have already completed home studies and have been back ground checked would be more then willing to foster or adopt many of these children world wide but especially here in the US.
    I am also sure there are many families that would be willing to help these children if there was a system in place to quickly help them through the adoption process.
    I am a single mom w/o a huge income however I know I would be more then willing to help in any way I can and open our home to a child in need.
    I know this is a complicated process bringing children to the US and other places in the world however it seems that extreme measures need to be put in place to get these children out of Haiti.
    Thanks for everything you have done for everyone in Haiti. Best Wishes for a safe journey home, Jennifer and Henry

    January 23, 2010 at 00:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Frank Wiley

    May GOD Bless the Good Doctor for the Amazing work she has done.

    January 24, 2010 at 14:54 | 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.