Dr. Ed Landry, who landed in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 19, arrived back in the United States on Jan. 23, spending nearly a week dealing with crushed bones, gaping wounds, and serious burns.
Landry got involved in the recovery effort through the Jimani Project, a nonprofit organization based out of Knoxville, Tenn., whose primary objectives are to share the gospel of Christ and to provide medical and social assistance to "one of the most impoverished areas in the hemisphere," according to the Project.
"So, they bought land in the Dominican Republic because they couldn't get a clear title to land in Haiti."
Landry said the doctors used the land to build a hospital and medical clinic, complete with operating rooms, exam rooms, and offices. He added that the second floor of the structure was used as a dormitory for the volunteers who went down to work in both the medical and missionary projects.
Landry said he had always wanted to go to the area, however, he was unable to leave his patients. In November, Landry said another orthopedic surgeon came to Kennett, allowing him the chance to go to the Jimani hospital.
Landry said the group had actually had a trip planned for late January, however, when the earthquake hit, they made emergency arrangements to get to the area as soon as possible.
When asked if the devastation was as bad as it seemed on television, Landry replied that from what he seen of the wounded people, it was "absolutely" as devastating as it appeared.
"I never actually went into Port-au-Prince," Landry said. "I was busy in the operating room and taking care of patients where I was. I didn't have that opportunity, but we did have doctors, non-orthopedic surgeons, who had the ability to go into Port-au-Prince. They brought patients back to us and their descriptions were just like what you see on television: People buried under rubble, hearing people moaning and groaning in the streets, the awful stench in the air from, basically, the dead and dying. It was just horrific scenes."
"One of the docs described it as just one minute standing there talking, the next minute lying down on the ground, face down, with no clue of how he ended up on the ground," Landry said. "It just happens that fast.
"From my perspective, what I saw, was just countless injured people," Landry said. "Some with family members who brought them to where we were in Jimani, and some who I have no clue how they got there. Maybe some of the people were just trying to get them out of that area. They would just come to the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Republic Nationals would send them over to the Project Jimani hospital because they knew it was there and thought, 'Well, this is why it is there. We'll send them there.' So, they ended up at our place."
"I think the absolute worst [case] was a young woman who was pregnant and had been crushed and the baby had died," Landry said. "She was at death's doorstep when she got [to the hospital]. Obstetrician Dr. John Williamson did an emergency hysterectomy and saved her life. She was very, very touch and go.
"And then [there were] the children who were burned and [had] broken bones. We had countless kids in casts from broken legs and broken arms, and some that needed surgery because of arms being crushed. It takes nothing to crush a baby's arm. Those were the hardest things to look at and to see and to deal with.
"There were just innumerable fractured femurs and tibias and open wounds of every size imaginable from extremities being pinned under rubble."
Landry said another severe wound was to the arm of a one-month-old baby.
"She had had her arm crushed and burned and broken," Landry said. "We didn't have x-ray so we couldn't really determine what the fracture situation was, but you could tell her arm was broken because it was unstable and you could feel the anatomy there. We basically had to operate on her three times. That is pretty horrific for a one-month-old. She wasn't done. She is going to need plastic surgery for skin grafting on the burn on the top of her forearm. That was very, very difficult.
"Then there was another child who was probably more like two or three-years-old whose arm had been crushed and had had some type of emergency surgery there in Port-au-Prince, that basically, from our perspective, hadn't gone well. In fact, she was at risk to lose her hand. Hopefully, it turns out good."
Landry said the working conditions for the doctors and nurses at the hospital were tough, as both supplies and operating rooms were issues.
"The hospital was built with two very nice operating rooms," Landry said. "But they had never done anything more than eye surgery. Eye surgery can be complicated, but the eye surgeons would bring instruments with them that they needed. So we had very few operating room instruments there and we had no x-ray."
Landry said a California-based group, Operation Rainbow, was using those two operating rooms.
"We had three operating rooms that we used that really weren't operating rooms. One was a dental room and the other two were OBGYN exam rooms. We turned those into operating rooms. They weren't air conditioned, but it was the best we had. There was no way we could avoid using [them]. We didn't have the ideal operating room situation.
"We didn't have x-ray, which meant we were doing things somewhat blindly. We had medications we needed. We had antibiotics. We had pain medication. [But] there was always an issue about running out of that and oxygen also."
Landry said on about Jan. 21, supplies started rolling in more reliably.
"The last three days I was there, I don't think supplies were an issue," Landry said, adding that they almost ran out of the pins and bars used to brace broken and crushed bones.
"Actually, we were down to the last two on [Jan. 20th]," Landry said. "Then the next morning, we got just a couple of huge box loads that came in from Baton Rouge, [La.]. So that kind of kept us going for another couple of days.
"And that is how it was. Things were constantly arriving."
As for people's spirits in the physically crushed lands, Landry said there were two groups of people.
"You have the Haitians who were wounded and those of us who were trying to take care of them," Landry said. "I think the Haitian people's spirits remained high at all times. They are just remarkable. They are extremely optimistic people. They have survived with nothing so they know how to survive with nothing. They were grateful to have people who put a roof over their heads and gave them three meals a day and took care of their needs for medication. They were wonderful people.
"I think on the other side, which is interesting, all of us kind of went through peaks and valleys. At first you are just shocked and stunned and overwhelmed. Then you just kind of do what you need to do to take care of people and it keeps you busy and you don't think about it. I know for me, by the end of the day you could be exhausted but you brain just won't shut down. There are just all the images of the day and [you think], 'Did I do the right thing? Did I do anything wrong? What did we do today? What are we going to do tomorrow? What is going to happen to these people tomorrow, next week, next month, next year?' I don't have the answers but these were just unavoidable questions for all of us. I think we all had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. A lot of highs in being able to participate and caring for these wonderful people who were so badly hurt, but at the same time, a lot of lows just realizing we don't know what happens next. There are a lot of unanswered questions."
Landry said his recent trip was not his last to the area, as he hopes to return in the spring.
"I will be going back," Landry said. "[I] don't know exactly when. Right now, there are plenty of doctors and nurses that are rotating in and out at the hospital and we now do have x-ray capabilities. I'll be going back. I don't know when. Probably sometime late in the spring because the next project is to develop some type of rehabilitation program for the children and to turn the orphanage back into an orphanage to take care of those children who need that.
"The Judasa Foundation, which is the faith-based group out of Knoxville who raised all the money to build this facility, has developed a relationship with another hospital just across the border in Haiti, and the plan is to try to construct some kind of children's rehabilitation facility there because there are children who were amputees. They need artificial limbs. They will need ongoing artificial limbs as they grow and they will need physical therapy. So, that is the plan."