Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Paging Dr. Gupta
He has operated on wounded soldiers in Iraq, witnessed the terrible loss of life from the tsunami in Sri Lanka and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and seen calamities around the globe. But nothing prepared Sanjay Gupta, MD, for Haiti.
"It was an unfathomable sight, the worst devastation I've ever seen. At first my mind had not processed what really happened until I saw all the bodies with my own eyes," he says.
Gupta, 40, associate chief of neurosurgery at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital and the chief medical correspondent for the Health, Medical & Wellness unit for the CNN broadcast network, arrived the day after the quake and played two roles nonstop: delivering riveting reports for the network's global viewers and online audience and, as one of the few neurosurgeons onsite, providing critical care, most movingly on a 15-day-old baby who suffered severe head lacerations when the house around her collapsed. Now he worries about the aftermath. "Some people died, some lived but there are so many in the middle."
Despite the enormity of the tragedy, Gupta believes the "scales of faith are being tipped" in Haiti. "You see all these people coming together in a way we don't see in day-to-day life. The dignity and respect shown under such circumstances is truly inspiring."
Henri Ford, MD, Saving the Children
The stories are heart-wrenching: a young girl with brick embedded in her skull; another girl miraculously pulled from the rubble 15 days after the earthquake; a baby born in a field hospital and then returned, two days later, with his mother to a "tent city" made of bed sheets and tarps. These are the kinds of cases that Henri Ford, MD, dealt with day after day on the front lines in Haiti.
Ford, who spent most of his childhood in Haiti and is now vice dean of medical education for USC's Keck School of Medicine, as well as chief of surgery at Los Angeles Childrens Hospital, felt a "tremendous urgency" when he heard about the earthquake. A national leader in pediatric disaster response, he knew he had the skills the Haitian people – 50 percent of whom are under the age of 15 -- needed.
Once there, he faced "atrocious" medical conditions and had to perform a "mind boggling" number of amputations, he says. Yet Ford was inspired by the attitude of the Haitians themselves. "Even if they had only one leg left, they were praising God for sparing their lives. If they were sleeping in the streets, they had a song in their mouths. It was so humbling."
LCDR Sara Pickett, RN, MSN, CCSN; Sea Change
A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier isn't exactly built for taking care of newborns, but when Lieutenant-Commander Sara Pickett, the Ship's Nurse on the USS Vinson and herself a mother of three, saw a Haitian mother and her two-hour-old baby arrive by helicopter, she knew just what to do. "An aircraft carrier is made entirely of steel," she says. "We had no diapers, no formula, no cradles. So we cut up blankets ... and turned washcloths into diapers. Our parachute riggers even made little clothes out of T-shirts."
Pickett, 37, was especially moved by the young mother's breastfeeding concerns. “She was afraid she couldn't feed her baby, because in her village the women put a paste on a new mother's breast in the shower and slap her breasts to make her milk come in. I told this mom, 'If you need me to do that, I'll do that. We just have to get this baby to eat.'"
Eventually the baby did nurse, but Pickett's work was hardly done. Over the next five days, Pickett, herself a critical care nurse, taught her 33 medical corpsmen to take care of the 60 patients who arrived on the Vinson, including those with massive infections, broken bones, and recently amputated limbs.
"I hope we touched lives," she says. "I know we saved lives. It feels good to help people. That's why I'm in the Navy."
Barth Green, MD, Vision for Care
Barth Green's first thought when hearing about the earthquake was "My god, what did they do to deserve this?" And the answer, he says, was "Of course, 'Nothing.'" Green, 64, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at University of Miami's Miller School Medicine and cofounder of Project Medishare, a nonprofit devoted to establishing good medical care in Haiti, has been working in the country for more than 20 years.
A friend with a private jet flew Green and a small medical team to the Port-au-Prince airport the next day. There they found "hundreds and hundreds of patients, screaming, moaning, crying, dying..." Green says. "We started working immediately -- even though all we had was a kitchen table to do surgery on."
Within nine days, however, Green and his team had set up a 300-bed hospital and, as coordinator for international medical relief efforts in the country, also helped start a 250-bed rehabilitation and recovery hospital (the country's first).
Now Green is envisioning a whole new health care system rising from rubble. "Haiti is one hour from Miami, yet people there are dying from malnutrition and dirty water," he says. "It's tragedy beyond belief and an opportunity beyond belief."