Bay Area disaster team completes Haiti assignment

February 2, 2010 6:30:30 PM PST
A team of medical professionals from the Bay Area has returned from an assignment described as their most challenging and most rewarding, a two-week mission to Haiti.

The local Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) deployed to the World Trade Center and Hurricane Katrina disasters, but Haiti was a mission like no other. They deployed immediately following the January 12 earthquake. Their commander, David Lipin of Santa Clara, says they were the first medical help to arrive in the area.

"There was a lot of cheering, and 'God bless America' and a lot of sentiment, positive sentiment expressed, a lot of anquish and pain of course," he recalled.

The first obstacle was finding a suitable place for a field hospital. The set-up needed to be near patients, but also had to be a secure location with a flat area for supply trucks to maneuver and a landing zone for helicopters on resupply missions. It took days of scouting to finally find a suitable location in Petionville, outside of Port-au-Prince.

Lipin says, "It was amazing actually. As soon as we started setting up, people started coming to us and carrying injured and sick people for us to see."

Most of the people that went to the field hospital had been living with crushed bones and deep wounds for days, even weeks.

"Most of the actual injuries were limbs; arms, hands, legs and feet that had gotten trapped in the debris and somehow got extricated," said Steve La Plante, one of the 38 medical professionals that made up the Bay Area contingent.

Lipin says the team worked 14 to 16 hour days in very harsh conditions, but adds that the work was some of the most rewarding he has ever done. In just five days, the team treated more than 1,000 patients. Most had minor injuries, but more than 200 cases were considered severe and 36 were classifed as critical. They say their experience was remarkable and rewarding.

"It worked. We treated more than 1,000 patients and everyone came away feeling pretty good about the job we did," Lipin said.

DMAT CA-6 flew out of Haiti on January 26 to return to the Bay Area, but turned the field hospital and all the equipment over to a DMAT team from Florida. It is possible the team could deploy to Haiti again.