Duke specialists heading to Haiti

Staff WriterFebruary 5, 2010 

— A team of specialized doctors and nurses from Duke University Medical Center leaves today for a hospital in Haiti, where they will spend up to two weeks treating earthquake victims as well as patients who have been fighting tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS since before last month's disaster.

The team will live and work at a hospital operated by Partners in Health, co-founded by Duke graduate Paul Farmer, in the village of Cange, about two hours northwest of Port-au-Prince. The hospital was undamaged by the quake and has been inundated with patients from Port-au-Prince.

Dr. Ian Greenwald, Duke's chief medical officer and a member of the hospital's disaster response team, said Duke went to work immediately after the quake to figure out where it could do the most good without getting in the way. The Duke team will replace specialists from the University of Pennsylvania hospitals who have been helping in Cange.

As they prepared to leave, gathering donated medical supplies and getting briefed by a nurse who had just returned from Haiti, some said they were worried only that they wouldn't be able to do enough during their stay.

"At the end of two weeks, you're coming home, and things aren't finished," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist.

Haiti will need intense outside help caring for its injured for months to come, doctors say.

The team going in today will find patients whose injuries may have healed some since they first crawled or were rescued from the rubble.

April Perry, a nurse clinician from Duke who returned last Friday from a 10-day stint with the N.C. Baptist Men's relief effort in Haiti, told the team to expect to see many patients recovering from crush wounds, bone and skull fractures, amputations and spinal injuries. Since their initial injuries, Perry said,many patients have developed secondary problems such as infections from wounds that were not adequately tended.

For his part, Cameron said he had been refreshing his knowledge of how to treat malaria, typhoid and dengue fever - tropical diseases rarely seen in patients at hospitals such as Duke.

Team members were told that though the 125-bed Partners in Health hospital - now housing more than 200 patients - is well equipped by Haitian standards, doctors and nurses still will be working in an austere medical environment.

"We can't just go down and take first-world medicine to a developing country and expect it will work," Greenwald said, in part because follow-up care may not be available.

The Duke team expects to stay in Haiti through Feb. 14.

martha.quillin@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8989

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