Educational Outreach Program

Dr. Zadeh Provides Medical Aid in Haiti

Going to Haiti was the most rewarding thing I ever did, and the most challenging. From the first television news footage I saw about the earthquake and devastation in Haiti, I wanted to help. I knew that I had the skills to help, but had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I left Jacksonville on February 15, 2010, with members of other NGO’s (Non Government Organizations) on a U.S. Navy flight into Port-au-Prince. Once we landed, we were taken by a military convoy to the shore and then by boat to the ship, USNS Comfort. The images traveling through Port-au-Prince were sad and grabbed all of our hearts. The people had extremely little to begin with and now have much less. Many buildings were leveled to the ground. Little children where playing among trash in a canal. Huge amounts of rubble from the earthquake were swept to certain areas, a reminder of the level of destruction. There were large fields of tents with communal living covering much of the city. Haiti is not accommodating to the disabled. In many areas there are no paved sidewalks, let alone wheel chair ramps. Most Haitians depend on manual labor to make their living. A disability like an amputation would hinder their chances of survival. Amputations are a tragedy anywhere, but a particular horror for Haitians. Haitians are primarily Catholic or Protestant, but a widespread background voodoo belief is that once someone gets an amputation, it is a source for the evil spirits to enter the body. I heard of a hair-raising event in the recovery room, where some parents who discovered that their child was an amputee started beating on the child to get the evil spirits out.

On the USNS Comfort, we operated daily on an average 25 patients, mostly for revisions of external fixation devices or amputations. One of my patients who left a big imprint on my memory was a 22 year old who was getting a second surgery to fix the broken bones in his leg. When asked via a translator if he had any questions about the anesthesia, he replied, “Will I be awake for this surgery too?” My heart fell, as I knew he had had no anesthesia for his prior surgery. I gave him a full general anesthetic. However, he awoke displaying post-traumatic-stress syndrome behavior, screaming violently, "Stop it already! I’ve had enough. Stop cutting me!"

The patients were allowed an escort to stay with them on the ship, usually a family member. Most of the patients, including children, had no one, so often came to the OR accompanied by a Red Cross volunteer. Some adults did not know where their children were, or if they were still alive. Most had lost daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and some had lost them all. Almost all were living on the streets and were severely malnourished. However, despite these misfortunes, Haitians are humble, warm, and have an immense sense of pride.

When I came back home to Los Angeles, it took me a few weeks to absorb everything and to start talking and writing about it. I truly appreciate everything I and we all have here in the United States. I no longer sweat the small stuff as much, and have become more thankful than ever. Being stuck in grid-lock traffic or not finding a parking spot do not get me concerned the way either would have prior to my trip to Haiti. I pray that the Haitians recover from this terrible tragedy, and that the rest of the world does not forget about them, because there is still much more to be done in Haiti.

Photos from the trip