News & Events

Triage care in Haiti: Holy Family doctor treats earthquake victims

By Yadira Betances
Eagle Tribune

On his first day in Haiti, earthquake victims were airlifted 75 miles from Port-au-Prince to where Dr. Steven Crespo and a team from Caritas Christi Health Services were waiting for them.

As soon as the helicopters landed on the soccer field, the injured were transported by ambulance to a makeshift hospital in a school across from Sacred Heart Hospital in Milot, north of Port-au-Prince.

Classrooms were converted into triage areas and victims were mainly treated for crush wounds, burns, trauma and fractures.

"We’re not around any collapsed buildings and we haven’t seen any bodies rotting or any part of that," said Crespo, of Boxford, chief of the Emergency Department at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.

But it was no less gruesome.

"We received patients in pretty bad shape, who had untreated injuries, who were dehydrated, had broken legs, arms, pelvises and backs," Crespo said in a telephone interview with The Eagle-Tribune yesterday from Haiti.

"Some were paralyzed because they had been trapped for so many days and others had to have their limbs amputated," he said.

During the first few days in Milot, Crespo said he worked up to 18 hours a day, getting little sleep. Sacred Heart Hospital, which normally has 75 beds, is now filled with 300 beds.

"As with other missions I go with, I see how good we have it in the U.S. as far as resources go, which encourages me to reach out."

In addition to Crespo, other missionaries included staff members from St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Brighton; St. Anne’s Hospital, Fall River; Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton and Carney Hospital, Dorchester; Por Cristo, a mission program in Ecuador; the CRUDEM Foundation, which runs Sacred Heart Hospital; and Philips Healthcare of Andover.

Philips Healthcare donated close to $1 million in equipment and supplies, including operating room monitors, vital signs monitors, defibrillators, fetal monitors, EKGs and ventilators.

Dr. Mark Pearlmutter, head of emergency medicine for Caritas Christi Health Services, is the team leader. Also on the trip was Deb O’Hara-Rusckowski of Andover, a nurse for the CRUDEM Foundation.

"It is utterly heartbreaking to watch the images and read the news about Haiti at present, but at least in this little corner of the country a big difference is being made and there is a glimmer of hope," Pearlmutter wrote on the health services Web site.

Most earthquake survivors developed severe complications, ranging from open and closed long bone fractures, deep open wounds, which were left untreated for seven to 10 days, compression neuropathies from massive swelling, spinal cord injuries and burns, Pearlmutter said.

He said wounds were grossly contaminated and severely infected.

"I like to help others who are not as fortunate and it doesn’t take much to give to them," Crespo said. "If we had not come here, a lot of these people would have died. We provided life-saving care to over 200 people."

"I’m an emergency room physician and this is the kind of thing I do," Crespo said.

Crespo worked alongside two other emergency room doctors, two internists, nine orthopedic surgeons, six general surgeons, three anesthesiologists, two certified nursing assistants and 11 nurses. The medical team from Massachusetts worked with 247 medical and nonmedical Haitian staff.

Out of all the victims Crespo treated, the one he remembers the most was on the evening they arrived.

"It was a 4-year-old girl who had tetanus because her wounds got infected. She ended up dying," Crespo said somberly.

"It’s heartbreaking to see, but all of us are focusing on getting the job done," Crespo said. "We all realize the suffering and how sad the situation is. Our mission is to care for the patient and comfort them as best as we can."

Crespo said the experience is not going to impact him until after he leaves Haiti on Friday.

"We’re still in the middle of it all. I’m not torn about going back because we have doctors, nurses and therapists who are coming," he said. "We have plenty of people to pass the work to. I feel it was great and there will be other teams coming here to help."

This is not the first time Crespo has done missionary work in Latin America. For the past six years, he has traveled to Guatemala to provide medical care to villagers as part of the International Family Church and Hearts in Action.

He also has taught emergency medicine in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama through Emergency International.

Crespo received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He completed his residency in emergency medicine at The Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Before joining Holy Family, Crespo was associate chief of the Emergency Department at Caritas St. Elizabeth Hospital in Boston. He previously worked at the Boston Medical Center and The Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Crespo said Haitians are coming together amid the tragedy.

"People from the community come in every day to feed, bathe and care for all the patients. There are many who stay and care for the children 24/7," he said.

In fact, after watching a woman lovingly caring for a baby, Crespo asked how old her child was.

"She told me, ‘This is not my baby. I met him yesterday.’ A lot of the babies are calling the people in Milot mommy and daddy. This is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen."

How to help

Needed items: cots, large tents that can cover 100 cots, the drug Lovenox, which is used to prevent and treat deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, anti-coagulants, hospital beds, sheets and blankets.

Ballard Vale United, 25 Clark Road, Andover: Members are collecting hand towels, washcloths, large and sturdy combs, nail files, fingernail clippers, 3 ounce bars of soap, single toothbrushes in original wrappers, plastic strip sterile bandages, and $1 so the United Methodist Committee on Relief can purchase toothpaste.

Archdiocese of Boston: Churches will take a second collection this weekend to assist in relief efforts in Haiti. Money will be sent to Catholic Relief Services.

Diocese of Manchester, N.H.: Donations will be taken at all Masses this weekend to benefit the relief program done by Catholic Relief Services in Haiti.

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Twelve medical personnel from Caritas Christi Health System traveled to Haiti and helped set up medical tents to tend to the thousands injured during the massive 7.0 earthquake two weeks ago. Courtesy Photo

Dr. Steve Crespo, left, chief of emergency services at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, attends to a young earthquake victim in Haiti. Courtesy photo