Memories of Haiti haunt disaster team; Area professionals helped after quake.
Gina M. Smith has been to a dozen significant disasters - Ground Zero and hurricanes in Louisiana and Texas - but nothing like the earthquake in Haiti.
The breadth of the disaster that took an estimated 230,000 lives in the Caribbean island nation, combined with the pride retained by patients with disease and amputation, left a deep impression on Ms. Smith, commander of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team based at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester. Her team of seven returned last week, about a week and a half after a 26-member team that also is part of Ms. Smith's MA-2 DMAT team.
Ms. Smith especially remembers a 5-year-old girl who came daily to the medical tent for a dressing change for a foot amputation. Despite squalid living conditions on the island, the girl showed up "nicely dressed, with ribbons in her hair," Ms. Smith said.
For the first three days, the girl never, ever smiled. Once the medical team provided the girl with the necessary supplies, she unwrapped her dressing, cleaned and bathed the wound, and put on a fresh dressing - all without help. "I don't think an adult could do that, to be honest," said Ms. Smith, emergency preparedness coordinator for UMass Memorial Medical Center.
"A physician went to help her and she just pushed his hand away."
It became Ms. Smith's goal to coax out a smile, but bubble solution and lollipops drew a "merci" under her mother's watchful gaze, but no smile. Finally the team got a smile, for reasons as unknowable to concerned outsiders as the laundering and wearing of Sunday-best clothes by people living in tent cities amid such devastation.
Jan Leary of Shrewsbury, a registered nurse who returned Feb. 15 from Haiti, recalls two very different gunshot victims she took care of on the night shift she worked in the medical tent. One was a shop owner shot in the leg by looters after the earthquake.
"`In Haiti,' he said to us, `if I lose my leg I am not a man anymore.'
"So we tried so hard not to let that happen. Every other day they would do surgery on his leg to try to save his leg.
"We had very limited resources. Probably 10 days into my deployment we got an X-ray machine thanks to Sean Penn."
The American actor "carried the box in with three other people in the heat. Probably about 8 at night.
"He's so devoted to this mission. It was the most admirable thing I'd ever seen anyone do."
Nevertheless "the man we tried so hard to save his leg - on the last day, he had an amputation and it broke my heart." In the United States probably the bullet could have been removed and the man's leg saved, said Ms. Leary, a staff nurse in the emergency room at the Memorial Campus of UMass Memorial Medical Center.
The patient next to him "happened to be walking down the street right after the earthquake, going to a store to buy supplies for his family " when he was shot in the stomach, Ms. Leary said. One family member was allowed to visit, and that person stayed 24 hours a day, sleeping on the floor. Families brought food into the field hospital for patients because they hated "American food."
The food was MREs - military meals ready to eat - and the medical help wasn't too crazy about them, either.
While Ms. Leary said she respected her patient, there was some talk that he was a drug lord. When news came to the hospital that the man with whom he had been admitted - also with a gunshot wound - was killed by a machete the day he was released, the man refused to leave the hospital when he was told he was ready.
Stories such as that - along with the fact that all of the prisoners escaped from the National Penitentiary on the day of the earthquake and were thought to have blended into the tent cities - were enough to keep the medical personnel from venturing beyond the medical compound that was surrounded by razor wire and the 82nd Airborne Division.
The DMAT members have fond memories of their experience. Ms. Leary also has some unopened paper towels.
She told the wife of one of her patients how much she admired the intricate gold shawl with sequins that she was wearing. The woman took it off to give to Ms. Leary, but Ms. Leary told her "no, no, no."
However, on the day Ms. Leary left, the woman presented her with a wad of paper towels, inside of which was the shawl. "I didn't know what to do.
"Why would they give me something when they needed so much. But I didn't want to insult her, so I took it and she immediately hugged me so tight and started crying." A few hours later Ms. Leary returned, taking the simple gold hoops out of her ears and presenting them as a gift to the woman.
The dean of the mission was Emilio Mastrodomenico, a 79-year-old pharmacist from Lancaster. Over the years he owned pharmacies in Rutland, which is still open under new ownership, and Acton and Sterling. Now he does drug utilization reviews for Commonwealth Medicine, a part of UMass Medical School.
But what keeps him young are the 26 mobilizations in which he's taken part for the disaster team - everything from Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Ground Zero, the anthrax killings of postal employees and flooding in Houston; to preventive deployments for a NATO meeting in Washington and one of George W. Bush's State of the Union addresses.
But few things have tugged on his heartstrings like the sight of "these little children on the side of the road" when he was on his way to the medical compound in Port-au-Prince, where he dispensed medicine to the medical teams. "They've been shortchanged by everyone," Mr. Mastrodomenico said.
"Mel" Mastrodomenico saw the children while he was riding in an open-back truck, reminding him of the trucks that took immigrants in his native Clinton to pick potatoes in the surrounding countryside.
But there was work to do in the medical compound on the grounds of the vacated GHESKIO medical school in Haiti's capital. Much of the work involved people needing care for causes unrelated to the earthquake, such as treatment for a two-month-old untreated broken thigh bone and delivering babies.
"Mel is my hero," said Ms. Leary. "The poor man retired five times. He never gives up."
CUTLINE: (1) Gina Smith, head of the DMAT team in Haiti, with a 6-year-old girl asleep in her arms. (2) Disaster team members included: Front row, from left, Jonathan Hall, Brimfield; Nan Ferris, Frankliln; Frank Bova, Princeton; Marie Ventimiglia, Brimfield; and Daniel Constantine, East Hampton. Back row, from leeft: Daniel Dean, Templeton; Fina Smith, Worcester; Bradford, Salzmann, Ware; and Brian Roberts, Upton.
PHOTOG: SUBMITTED PHOTOS
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||LOCAL NEWS|
|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Feb 28, 2010|
|Previous Article:||Uniform differences; Fitchburg schools consider instituting clothing policy.|
|Next Article:||New charter school fills up; Seventh-grade lottery held.|