Two Northwest-area physicians, two nurses and the physician brother of one of them recently traveled to Milot, Haiti, volunteering their medical skills to help earthquake victims.
Anthony Stazzone, MD, and Jaime Ledesma, MD, are physicians from University Medical Center's North Hills Physician Office. They went to Haiti with Sheryal Valencic, RN, and Debby Hansen, LPN, from that facility. Accompanying them was Ricco Stazzone, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon from St. Louis, Mo.
The five-person volunteer team was assigned to Sacre Coeur Hospital in Milot, working out of a five-tent compound across from the hospital. The tents held more than 200 people injured in Port-au-Prince by the January 12 earthquake. A total of 600 earthquake victims were housed in the tent area and in the 70-bed hospital.
The North Hills crew spent a week there treating patients.
In Milot, Anthony Stazzone, who practices internal medicine, was responsible for 50 patients in one tent, while Ledesma, a gynecology specialist, spent much of his time in the operating room, along with Ricco Stazzone. Valencic worked in a post-anesthesia care unit, while Hansen circulated among three operating rooms.
Anthony Stazzone noted there were 45 medical personnel working the tents, all volunteers, from Arizona, Texas, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Hungary.
"We'd be up at around 5 a.m. with the sunrise," Stazzone said, "and were at work by 7 a.m. or earlier and worked until around 6:30 or 7 p.m. each day. After that there were meetings and counseling sessions, so we rarely got to bed before midnight."
Daytime working temperatures were between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit with approximately 80 percent humidity.
Stazzone noted that what sleep the medical crew got was usually interrupted.
"We slept in open buildings and a rooster crowed about every two hours throughout the nights," he said.
After the earthquake hit, Stazzone, who had performed international medicine in Egypt and Brazil in the past, said he was looking to go to Haiti and help, but couldn't locate a facility where he could work. Eventually, he teamed up with the Center for the Rural Development of Milot in Haiti and organized the other volunteers from North Hills and his brother.
"Ricco was looking to go there too after he got an e-mail from them in Haiti, requesting orthopedic equipment for their hospital," Stazzone said. "They sent $100,000 worth of exterior fixator devices down to Haiti, and Ricco agreed to go with us."
Stazzone said the patients cared for by the North Hills volunteers were "in five large MASH-like army tents and four concrete buildings with open sides. No one wanted to be in an enclosed building after the quake and the aftershocks.
"Most of the male patients in my tent were aged between 16 and 60, and some had been under the rubble between three and 12 days," Stazzone said. "Several had amputations, and I have never seen so many broken femurs and tibias in so many pieces."
Stazzone said the biggest challenge he faced was fighting dehydration and "making sure I was emotionally in a good frame of mind because you see a lot of people suffering. You can't transform their lives," he said, "but you can help them by treating them. There's so much suffering, I could work there for 20 years and never solve all their issues."
But Stazzone would volunteer again in a heartbeat.
"As a physician, I'm supposed to help people, no matter who they are," he said. "If I have the skills they can use, I want to help."