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The Children’s team in
Bam, Iran with their local guides.
hours after a December 26 earthquake devastated the Iranian city
of Bam, five Children’s staff members were on their way to join
medical teams from across the world to provide emergency relief.
Department (ED) nurses Alan Bouchard, RN, and
Renee Charbonneau, RN, and ED physicians Mark
Waltzman, MD, and Debra
Weiner, MD, PhD, and Gary
Fleisher, MD, pediatrician-in-chief, arrived in Bam,
they found the city in ruin. Seventy percent of homes had been leveled,
more than 40,000 residents were dead and the city’s hospital had
been destroyed, killing half of the doctors who had worked there.
“It was very chaotic,” says Fleisher, leader of the pediatric team
for National Disaster Medical System. “These families had higher
priorities than medical care, such as food, water and a warm place
to sleep. It was often several days before they would bring their
children to us.” Many of the children treated by the team had lost
their entire families in the disaster. “That was the most difficult
part for me. Part of me just wanted to reach out and hug them and
take them home.” says Fleisher.
The clinicians worked up to 18 hours a day for 10 days, setting up
field hospitals and treating over 700 patients for untreated lacerations,
fractures and paralyzed extremities, among other conditions. In addition
to treating disaster-related injuries, the team treated many common
infections such as streptococcal pharyngitis, otitis media, bronchiolitis
and gastroenteritis. “We also had the opportunity to treat a number
of interesting cases that are quite rare in the U.S.,” says Fleisher.
“For example, we treated a child with thalassemia for a pathological
fracture caused by the bone weakening symptomatic to that disease.”
Within days of the earthquake, the International Federation of
the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies started construction of
a new, 200-bed hospital equipped with a radiology department, laboratory
and operating suite. By the time the Children’s team left, the hospital
was opening its first 25 beds. The equipment, supplies and patients
from the emergency tent hospital were turned over to local doctors
and a consortium of European physicians at the new facility.
Despite the severe conditions, limited resources and freezing temperatures,
Weiner was grateful for the opportunity to help. “The people were
in desperate need, but they were also incredibly welcoming and grateful
for our presence,” she says “This is one experience that I will
never forget.” —AD