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Help for Haitians

Penn nurses and medical staff care for four earthquake victims

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PENN NURSES: Darline Rosier, RN (left), and Jamie Heffernan, BSN, RN, are front and center caring for several of the patients from Haiti at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Rosier's help is invaluable. She is a native of Haiti and can communicate with the women, two of which have had amputations of limbs.
One woman, Ms. G, 27, was at a school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on the morning of Jan. 12. Ms. B, 32, was in church. And the third, 21-year-old Ms. P, was picking up her paycheck at the hospital where she worked as a vendor. Then the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck and their lives changed forever. Although severely injured, proper medical resources were scarce, and personal resources for medical care even scarcer.

With the help of students and faculty from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), Philadelphia, the three women and a 4 1/2-year-old boy and his father were flown from Haiti to HUP Jan. 17 for lifesaving treatment and surgery. The boy was moved to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. A fifth injured person was originally scheduled for the flight, but was deemed too critical to transport. Hospital officials say they hope other evacuation flights of severely injured earthquake victims will be authorized.

Darline Rosier, RN, learned about the Haitian patients at her hospital while watching the news Sunday morning. She immediately went to the hospital to help. "I work at HUP, and I was also born in Haiti, so I showed up to show some support, and I was assigned to help them."

Rosier and the other nurses immediately reached out to the women, on a physical and emotional level. "My feeling as a nurse was 'They're at the right place.' The way the other nurses were feeling about what was happening in Haiti was really touching, really compassionate."

Current Condition

All three women had sustained crush injuries to their right lower extremities. Ms. G and Ms. P have had amputations - one below the knee and the other high above the knee. When ADVANCE spoke to the nurses, Ms. P had just been extubated and Ms. B was in surgery undergoing an incision and drainage (I and D) procedure to try to save her limb. "You could only get her pulses by Doppler, which is not a good sign," said Jamie Heffernan, BSN, RN, a staff nurse on the surgical nursing unit where the women were staying.

"Physically, it doesn't seem like they have many other injuries, beyond cuts and scratches," Heffernan said. "They are in a lot pain, but I think a lot of the pain is emotional; they are tearful and saying the pain is in their legs, but I'm sure it's not all in their legs. ... On one hand I'm sure they're really happy to be here," Heffernan said. "But, they're in a place where they don't know anyone or understand what the majority of us are saying. They don't know what is going on with their family or how to get in contact with them." 

"One [of the women who lost a leg] is really strong," Rosier said. "She is willing to try everything and is trying to motivate other patients and encourage them to participate in their care."

Kindness Overflowing

The entire experience has to be overwhelming for these patients. That is why the simplest acts of kindness have made the most difference to the distressed patients, Heffernan has observed. "Someone was up here [today] doing one woman's hair, and she already seems happier," Heffernan said. "Sometimes that is better than any medicine you can give. She had so much dirt [debris] in her hair still, from the earthquake. They took all her braids out, washed her hair and straightened it. ... While she was getting hair done she was eating food that she wouldn't eat earlier."

"One told me 'I feel like I am home,'" Rosier said. "She said 'The nurses are really human beings, I didn't expect them to treat me like this.'"

Rescue Mission

The five Haitians would not be here if it weren't for Naomi Rosenberg, a medical student at HUP and a volunteer with the Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH), a nonprofit organization that helps Haitians here and in their homeland. (For more on PIH, go to http://nursing.advanceweb.com/Article/Online-Book-Club-Archives.aspx, then scroll down to Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.)

For this mission, Rosenberg connected with state and national lawmakers to ensure the Haitians would have safe and legal passage. A medical evacuation plane was donated, and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) worked with Immigration and Homeland Security to grant the Haitians temporary protected status.

"This is only the beginning for these women," Rosenberg said. "It's going to be a really long few months, if not years, as they recover from injuries and then try to rebuild lives with their families. PIH will stay with them every step of the way. I've been really grateful for this to be happening at Penn."

Abigail Scott is a freelance writer for ADVANCE.


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