Facing life and death 

Apr 26
By Chas Reilly - chas.reilly@nwi.com, (219) 662-5324 | Posted: Monday, April 26, 2010

Working with little resources in a Haitian hospital, a team of medical personnel from Northwest Indiana often had to use creative means to treat patients.

Moved by the lack of health care in the impoverished island nation, the region volunteers spent a week in Saint-Marc, a coastal town north of the capital of Port-au-Prince, which was ravaged by a Jan. 12 earthquake.

Dr. Nicholas Johnson, associate director of emergency medicine at the Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary; Johanne Theodule, a Methodist Hospitals physician's assistant; Michelle Nizam, a Methodist Hospitals nurse; and Becky Sebella, a nurse from Starke Memorial Hospital, witnessed the dire conditions when a child suffering seizures and pneumonia was brought to the facility.
Johnson said the child was near death and needed a ventilator to be treated. The nearest hospital with a ventilator was about 90 minutes away in Port-au-Prince, he said.

The team intubated the child, administered seizure medication and taped together two storage container lids to create a makeshift stretcher to carry the child.

The group traveled with the patient in a van but didn’t have the equipment to monitor the patient. Johnson said the best he could do was use his hand to monitor the child's pulse during the roughly 60-mile trip to Port-au-Prince.

They arrived to the hospital in time, and the child survived, Johnson said.

Days later, a similar situation occurred involving another child. That patient also survived.

"Those kids absolutely would've died if we weren't here," Johnson said before the team returned Saturday to the United States.

In addition to treating between 50 and 100 patients each day during the visit, the team also spent time educating Haitian doctors.

Johnson said some Haitian doctors don't have the tools to sedate patients before painful procedures, so the team explained how doctors can help control their patients' pain with available resources.

"They were really receptive," he said.

Johnson said he also learned from his experiences in Haiti while treating illnesses such as typhoid fever and malaria.

"We don't treat too many malaria patients back in the states," Johnson said.

The trip marked the second time Johnson and Theodule volunteered in the country since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that ravaged the country three months ago. But it was the first opportunity for Nizam and Sebella, of Wheatfield.

While happy about returning home to Valparaiso, Nizam knows more assistance is needed in Haiti.

"It's sad to leave behind people who still need so much help," Nizam said.

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