A unique alliance of Santa Monica medical professionals and local entertainment luminaries helped answer Haiti’s urgent plea for orthopaedic surgeons in the wake of last month’s horrific earthquake. The 10 member team landed in Haiti the last week of January. According to Dr. Rabin Modabber of the Santa Monica Orthopaedic Group, the team was assigned to a Partners-in-Health facility in the town of Cange, about a three-hour drive from Port-au-Prince. On the first day, the team triaged the patients to prioritize care, including those with severe spinal injuries four of whom were evacuated to the U.S. Navy’s Comfort floating hospital for treatment.
Working under rudimentary but adequate conditions, Modabber notes that the team was “able to do nearly 40 major surgeries consisting primarily of fractures in the upper and lower extremities, many with complex soft tissue injuries. In addition, complex wound care was provided on the wards, often requiring sedation to perform due to the severe nature of the wounds.”
The logistics of getting to and from Haiti were ponderous. The idea was hatched shortly after the earthquake at a social event where Dr. Modabber and Gary Kress, Matt Damon’s business manager, got talking about Haiti. Kress had previously been involved with Haiti’s Partners in Health, a public health organization founded two decades ago by Dr. Paul Farmer. The next day Kress made a few calls and got back to Modabber: If the Doctor could put together a medical team Kress could get them to Haiti, and Partners in Health would coordinate their services on the ground.
Santa Monica Orthopaedic Group surgeons Kevin Ehrhart and senior resident Stephan Pro (who speaks French) volunteered, as did Bayside Anesthesia doctors John Kohl and George Herr. All the doctors are on the staff of Saint John’s, and according to Modabber, “Saint John’s response was overwhelmingly positive, and within hours they offered surgical techs, recovery nurses, and medical supplies.” Joining the team from Saint John’s were Alberto Bustos, Karina Aparicio, Kristin Opaskar, and Elaine Larotonda. Two additional Santa Monica Orthopaedic group associates, Clinical Operations Manager Monica Modabber and RN Kerri Kilroy, director of the Surgery Center of the Pacific, completed the effort. Medical instruments and implants were provided by Synthes and Stryker corporations.
Meanwhile, with Kress at the helm, other community resources quickly aligned from a variety of generous organizations and individuals. Mel Gibson provided his private jet, operated by Sun Air Jets. Matt Damon and Newman’s Own Foundation pledged funding.
After five days in Haiti, it was time to return to Santa Monica and hand over operations to arriving teams of surgeons from Ireland and University of Pennsylvania. With the support of Saint John’s and Newman’s Own Foundation, about 95 percent of the unused supplies brought from Santa Monica were left in Cange. The team also left warm clothing, sleeping bags and just about anything else potentially useful to the hospital and surrounding population. Exhausted and down to the clothes on their backs, the Santa Monica medical team returned to Port-au-Prince and caught a ride back to Orlando on a cavernous U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jet, and from there they returned to Santa Monica.
Dr. Modabber notes that many of his Santa Monica associates volunteered for the mission, more than could be accommodated, and he is grateful to the medical staffs who covered while their colleagues were off to Haiti. He concludes, “My sincere hope is that each member of the team and our ‘sponsors’ remain involved with humanitarian projects, including support of Partners in Health and similar organizations, in any way possible.”
Mirror Contributing Writerdave@smmirror.com