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Hamptons Life

Jan 26, 2010 6:58 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Local doctors leave for Haiti

Jan 26, 2010 6:58 PM

A group of eight doctors and nine nurses, many of whom work at Southampton Hospital, arrived in Haiti on Saturday evening armed with a ton of medical supplies and, they hoped, enough perseverance to make it through the week-long trip in an area devastated by an earthquake on January 12.

“Hopefully we can help, I don’t know what we can do yet,” Dr. Medhat Allam, the Southampton Hospital surgeon who is leading the trip said on Friday night. “It has been very frustrating and very draining already, so we’ll see.”

Dr. Allam is one of the founders of International Surgical Mission Support, a nonprofit organization made up of doctors and nurses that participate in mission trips to underprivileged countries to provide medical support. Based in Southampton, the group has been to countries such as Nepal, Brazil, Zambia, Vietnam and Peru, but it has never responded directly to a trauma like the recent earthquake in Haiti.

Dr. Allam said the group typically takes at least three months to prepare for a mission, sometimes up to a year. He said the trip to Haiti was planned in three days, in which time the team of 17 medical practitioners was brought on board, supplies were shipped and private planes and volunteer pilots were secured for the flight to West Palm Beach, where the group would connect to a commercial flight for Port-au-Prince.

He said that the group had been collecting supplies for a trip to Egypt in March, which made it possible to quickly shift gears and head to Haiti. But Dr. Allam said that until last Wednesday, he hadn’t planned to go.

“For me, I didn’t necessarily understand the magnitude of the problem until then,” he said. “There have been other earthquakes that have not resulted in so many injuries. I don’t think there has ever been a whole capital city that has collapsed on itself like that.”

The group will stay for one week, said Dr. Allam. They brought with them enough supplies and portable hospital equipment for three makeshift operating rooms and six or seven recovery rooms, he said. He expects the group to perform about 100 surgeries.

“There are a lot of people with extremity injuries and many have died from their wounds,” said Dr. Joseph DeBellis, also of Southampton Hospital. Dr. DeBellis also took on an organizing role for this trip, volunteering to fly his own private plane to Florida, and finding three other pilots who would help. Michael Myers of Myers Aero Service helped Dr. DeBellis organize things from East Hampton Airport and donated fuel for the planes and food for the doctors. They also got help from Bill Berkoski, of Southampton’s Berkoski Ice and Storage, Mr. Myers said, who donated a truck and drove for 21 hours to get their medical supplies down to Florida.

Dr. DeBellis said the volunteers can’t be sure what situation they’ll find themselves in when they arrive in Port-au-Prince, but that they expect to have patients lined up to see them right away.

“There are an unlimited amount of people with these injuries,” he said. “We’ll perform medical resuscitation and treatment for infections. There’s also a contaminated water and food supply, so there are going to be a lot of people suffering from gastrointestinal distress. We’ll do surgical intervention. We’ll do whatever we can possibly do, we’ll take whatever comes to us.”

He said they have the staff and equipment necessary to address everything from treating dehydration and malnutrition to performing surgeries.

He said the news of doctors who have been unsuccessful in Haiti so far has been disheartening, but that ISMS specializes in working in areas that lack infrastructure. He said they will be received in Port-au-Prince by an organization called Island Impact, which has found a church for the group to operate out of and will also receive their supplies as they arrive in Haiti.

“A lot of doctors and nurses are going down there and they want to offer their skills, but there’s nobody receiving them. They get there and find they have no equipment to work with,” he said. “We have experience starting from scratch. We’re bringing our own infrastructure with us, so there’s a much greater chance to really hit the ground running.”

“All we need are four walls,” said Dr. Allam about his organization. “Or a tent.”

On Saturday morning at the East Hampton Airport, members of the team loaded their bags onto a luggage cart at the main terminal and greeted each other in the brisk morning weather. Many of the participants had been on mission trips before, both with ISMS and similar organizations, but nevertheless, there was obvious anxiety among them as they waited to board the planes.

Dr. Angela Soteriou was asked to join the trip just a few days earlier. She said it will be her first mission trip.

“I’m sort of speechless right now,” she said. “We don’t know that much about anything. We’re landing in Port-au-Prince tonight. I brought a tent and a sleeping bag, I don’t know if I’ll need them.”

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Very proud of the team from Southampton Hospital! God Bless and all the best with the wonderful work that you do.
By fdp (23), southampton on Jan 28, 10 6:25 AM
It nice to see the new East Hampton Supervisor taken the time to be there for the doctors!!!!!!!!!!
By Bel (86), southampton on Jan 28, 10 9:40 AM
Wow, I am proud of our doctors and local business owners. You are a credit...now how can the rest of us help????
By nauti lady (25), Sag Harbor on Jan 28, 10 7:51 PM
Well I am sure they need contractors to help with reconstruction.
By lo-cal (78), southampton on Jan 31, 10 11:55 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By LovedHerTown (132), southampton on Jan 31, 10 4:15 PM
they should give free help right here o well they feel good about them selves.
By block122 (3), southampton on Feb 1, 10 2:46 PM