Dr. K.J.S. "Sunny" Anand is the director of the critical care program at Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center. He led a team of 13 Le Bonheur doctors and support staff on a trip to Haiti where — for 13 days — they contributed to relief efforts following the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince on January 12th.
How many disaster-relief trips have you made?
I've personally done a couple before. But none of them were to a foreign country. I did my medical training in India, and did some disaster relief there. Several people amongst our team had done medical missions to various countries.
How soon after the quake did you know you'd be on your way to Haiti?
We were all very concerned. There was a swelling sentiment amongst the medical staff that we can't just stand by and watch this happen. We had to do something about it. Several of us contributed financially, but we were somewhat dissatisfied. There was a definite need for pediatric teams, as Haiti's population is more than 40 percent under the age of 18. Several children's hospitals responded, and we were one of three selected to go. We were asked to have teams ready to deploy within 24 hours. Numbers of people wanted to go and help; just goes to show that the institutional heart is in the right place. [The Le Bonheur team arrived in Haiti — with 40,000 pounds of supplies — on January 30th.]
What was the chief aim of your team's mission?
There was a clinic already established, but after the earthquake all the personnel had left. There were 300 or 400 patients showing up with no one to see them. If we had gone down with the federal government, we would have had security and transportation arranged for us. Instead, we had to contract with a security company, and FedEx stepped up to fly us and our supplies down, free of cost.
Upon arriving, what was your first impression?
Total shock. I had my hand on my mouth, because I was just appalled by the conditions. It was total destruction, everywhere you looked. People on the street; children on the pavement with no one to take care of them. Total chaos. Everything was destroyed.
How do you remain professionally clinical amid such utter devastation?
We were all seasoned clinicians. We had two orthopedic surgeons, one trauma surgeon. We were all senior physicians. Le Bonheur made a big sacrifice. Three major chiefs were down there. We were down there with the sole purpose of helping the children of Haiti. Not to get any kind of glory. We were there for the right reasons. In order to help, if we needed to unload 40,000 pounds of supplies with our bare hands, that's what we did.
What was your individual responsibility during your two weeks in Haiti?
It was improvisation, being in the moment. My role was to organize people, to make sure we had enough people to unload trucks, send people to the airport. But I also had to make sure people were getting enough water. I didn't want anyone to get dehydrated. We worked about 16 hours that first day, setting up the operating room, the pharmacy.
What was the most important asset your team brought?
We saw about 250 patients the day the clinic started. Appendicitis, flu, typhoid, a pregnant lady in active labor. The word gets around pretty quickly. But we realized the skills of the team weren't being utilized. Out of all those patients, only two or three needed surgery. So on the second day I went to the United Nations headquarters and announced that we had a fully equipped operating room, with three surgeons and two anesthetists. The next morning, we drove into the heart of the city with all our equipment, and there were loud cheers. That day, our surgeons did 17 operations.
Aside from medical treatment, what can be offered to victims of natural disasters that might restore hope?
Our prayers and good wishes go a long way. Our support of organizations like the Red Cross or the Clinton Global Initiative would be helpful. What Haiti needs now is not so much the surgeons and doctors, but physical therapists, child-life specialists, pharmacists, and nurses. The survival of Haiti now depends on the government utilizing all the resources that have poured into that tiny country. I worry about some of the corruption.