Thursday, April 1, 2010

Please Help Us Find a Neurosurgeon

I have been asked to post this request to help our field hospital find a neurosurgeon for one of our patients.

Amanda, a 22 year old young woman living at the Heartline Field Hospital in Port au Prince, Haiti, was crushed when her neighbor’s house collapsed into hers in the Haiti earthquake on 12 January 2010. She has multiple injuries, including a severe nerve (brachial plexus) injury which causes her to live in incapacitating pain. There are no specialists in Haiti who can perform this repair. We are seeking help to get Amanda to the United States (or elsewhere) to a neurosurgeon/ brachial plexus specialist, in a last hope effort to resolve this young woman’s incapacitating pain. If you know any orthopedists or neurosurgeons, please share Amanda’s story with them, and see if they know anyone who might be able to help Amanda. We are asking that the surgeon and treating hospital donate their services. If and when a surgical team is identified, we will also need financial donations to pay for Amanda’s medevac to the United States, and her room and board while she is there. Amanda has a passport, which will facilitate her travel out of the country.

Here is Amanda’s story:

On the evening of 12 January 2010, young Amanda was standing in her mother’s kitchen outside of Port au Prince. When the earthquake hit, her neighbor’s house came crashing into hers, trapping Amanda under its crushing weight. Her neighbor – and best friend – was killed instantaneously. Earthquake survivors describe the shaking and grinding of the earth on that day as nightmarishly surreal; many believed the world was coming to an end. In the minutes after the large quake, neighborhoods echoed with thousands of screams – some of pain, others of dispair over injured or dead loved ones. The screaming echoed eerily and incessantly into the dark night, through near and distant neighborhoods; the hellish sound reportedly could be heard for miles. One in every ten people in Port au Prince and the outlying communities was killed in the earthquake that shook for less than one minute.

Amanda’s screams of pain were heard by neighbors, who worked aggressively, despite severe aftershocks, to free her from the concrete and rebar grave that trapped her. When finally rescued, it was clear that her life was in danger. Her left arm and femur were crushed – exquisitely painful, and potentially life threatening open wounds. In the United States, such severe injuries would have gotten Amanda life-flighted to the nearest trauma center for emergency surgery. In Haiti in the week following the earthquake, she was one of more than 100,000 severely injured individuals desperate – and unable – to find care.

Imagine, in that moment, that Amanda is your daughter, your sister, or your friend. And you are desperately trying to find her care. You drive first to your local hospital – which is absolutely overwhelmed. She is there for two days, and receives an IV, but no pain medications and no orthopedic care. She is in agony. You become desperate; you decide to drive her to the city. Certainly there, at one of the big city hospitals, she will receive help. But many of the big hospitals, you soon discover -- to your horror -- have been destroyed. You find one – hospital number two – and take her there. After a day, she again receives no care. So, you drag her unsplinted, broken form in search of a rumored orthopedic field hospital. You cannot find it, so you sleep with her in the streets, cradling her crying form through the night in your arms. In the morning, you take her to hospital number three. No care. You search again for the rumored field hospital and finally move her again – still unsplinted, still without pain medication, to hospital number four. There, she is loaded into a truck and convoyed across the countryside – still without pain medication and still unsplinted, every jolt on the country highway grinding bone on bone – to the Dominican Republic, the country east of Haiti, to hospital number five. There she finally sees an orthopedist, who places a metallic external fixator into the shattered bones of her left femur and a metal rod to stabilize the open fracture of her upper left arm. There they discover that her left arm is paralyzed and burning with severe, intractable nerve pain; the bone is also infected, as her open fracture remained uncleaned for so long. You meet a representative of another field hospital located back in Haiti -- one that has orthopedists and plastic surgeons, and can manage her open wounds and infections. So, you truck young Amanda, once again, over the bumpy rural highway, back to Port au Prince, the city from which you started, to hospital number six -- Merlin Field Hospital. There, in a collection of canvas tents on an old tennis court, European physicians place skin grafts over her open wounds of her leg, and further manage her infection. You discover that they, too, are overwhelmed with patients, and recommend transferring her to hospital number seven – Heartline Field Hospital – for pain and infection management and rehabilitation. At Heartline, it becomes obvious that the nerve pain in her arm is severe and unremitting; so she is transferred temporarily to Miami Field Hospital – hospital number eight -- where an anesthesiologist places a temporary catheter into her chest through which pain medication can be infused to blunt the nerve pain in her now non-functional left arm. This intervention fails. She is transferred back to Heartline for regular care and rehab. Her unremitting pain continues. Orthopedists, plastic surgeons and neurologists agree -- no one in Haiti can fix this girl's injury. Imagine this is your sister, your daughter, your friend. The agony of her journey. The agony of months of intractable pain. The overwhelming hopelessness.

Amanda’s femur is slowly healing, but arm pain remains severe. The unfair irony of Amanda's arm injury -- a probable stretch or tear of the brachial plexus -- is that although the nerves to her arm now fail to function, and it hangs limp and unusable at her side, she is plagued not with arm numbness, but with severe, incessant pain. Nerve pain. Imagine the worst ice cream headache of your life. Or the worst sciatica of your life. Imagine the pain you get when the dentist pokes his metal hook right into that sensitive part of your tooth. Fiery, electrical, intolerable pain. That is nerve pain. Now, imagine living with it, with no hope for relief. This is Amanda’s burden.

Some have recommended amputation of Amanda's left arm. The problem is, the nerve bundle lies above her shoulder, so amputation would disfigure her without alleviating the intractable pain. Even with her left arm gone, she would still suffer severe phantom pain, which she would feel travelling from her shoulder to the fingertips of her now missing limb.

There is a possible surgical intervention for Amanda -- brachial plexus repair. But there is no one in Haiti able to perform it. There are a few specialists in the United States who can. But the clock is ticking. The farther she gets from her injury, the less likely it can be successfully repaired. And the more likely this young 20 year old woman will live with devastating pain. As one orthopedist bluntly put it, "This injury will not kill her. But suicide, from the ongoing, unremitting pain, could."

Please help Amanda. We need to find her a surgeon. And we need the funding to get her to the United States, and support her while she is there.

If you can help in any way – be it a donation, an offer of housing or transportation, or a medical contact, please contact Heartline Ministries at Together, we believe the Heartline Field Hospital community and contacts can come together to find Amanda a final solution – at hospital number nine. We will keep you informed of our progress to find Amanda care.
Please forward this request on to anyone you feel might help with Amanda’s case.

Heartline Field Hospital, Heartline Ministries, Port au Prince, Haiti


  1. Dr. Sanjay Gupta at CNN is a practicing neurosurgeon, and certainly CNN would have resources. Dr. Gupta has been very involved in the Haiti crisis and worked there for several weeks. Maybe it would be worth approaching him with an email? Terri Urban

  2. Terri has a great idea. I have forwarded your blog on to CNN, suggesting what a great "human interest" story this might be. Godspeed.

  3. Great idea, Terri. I have contacted both CNN and BBC America

  4. Also, see an article in today's Boston Globe about a patient being helped by Dr. Robert Mclaughlin of Mass General Hospital. He is an ortho doctor who has been to Haiti. He sounds like he is willing to move mountains for his patients...and Mass General is a huge hospital that has to have neurosurgeons and resources for international patients who need help.

  5. I have forwarded your blog to all the orthopedists I know in Northern Virginia, and per Terri's comment, I emailed Barbie Boots' blog to Dr. McLaughlin's practice in Beverly, Ma. We need to keep on trying to bring the tragedy that is Haiti to the rest of the world.

  6. I contacted my aunt and uncle in Seattle because my uncle is an anesthesiologist at the children's hospital there. My uncle talked to a nuerosurgeon at Children's and he suggested "Dr Barth Green at Univ of Miami would be a good contact as he has ties to Haiti." I don't know how you would contact him but it's a start.

  7. Hi, Barbie! You may remember me from medical supply many years back on the ice. Dawn Rossi shared your wonderful blog with me on facebook - it's great to see you're still the fantastic, huge-hearted woman I admired so much in Mactown.

    I have a brother who's an R3 ortho surgeon in Brooklyn & has done pro bono trips to Columbia with a CT based group of established docs. Passed along the link to this blog entry & asked that he forward it to anyone from that organization who may offer help.

    You are doing such amazing work down there & write so beautifully about it that each entry I've read brings tears to my eyes. The world needs so many more women like you!

    Stay safe & keep up the great work.

    Erica Stone

  8. Hey Barbie! I hope you are well! I'm still asking friends and contacts for a neurosurgeon. Have you guys found anyone willing to take on Amanda's case yet? Let us know!

    PS - Sing a round of "We Are the World" with Rosemonde form me, will ya? :)

  9. I just sent an email to Partner's In Health a group I support that works in Haiti. They have accomplished all sorts of amazing things for Haiti EQ patients.