published Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

Doctor plans 3rd relief trip to Haiti

by Emily Bregel

With memories of the decimated country fresh in his mind, Dalton, Ga., surgeon Rod Rodriguez is preparing for his third trip to Haiti, one year after a major earthquake there killed or displaced more than 1 million people.

Rodriguez is among dozens of Chattanooga-area medical personnel who have journeyed to the Caribbean island, offering their medical skills in the aftermath of the devastating 7.0 earthquake.

Poorly constructed, multi-story structures "pancaked" during the Jan. 12 quake, resulting in many crush injuries and widespread amputation of limbs, Rodriguez said.

"It was utter chaos. The infrastructure and whatever medical services there were were just completely overwhelmed," he said.

Rodriguez took his first trip just a few weeks after the disaster and spent much of his time treating infections after amputations done in field hospitals under desperate conditions, he said.

Five months later on his second trip, Rodriguez said he found the country still in shambles and health clinics and hospitals still under-supplied, despite millions in international aid donations.

"To say it's better isn't really saying much," he said. "You see all these reports of how much money was donated to all these organizations. There's all this money, but I'm not seeing where it's been spent."

Next month, Rodriguez will travel with Clinicians of the World, a nonprofit organization formed by a doctor based at the Mayo Clinic whom Rodriguez met on a trip to Haiti. Rodriguez is the group's surgical director.

The earthquake killed more than 230,000 people and displaced 1.3 million, according to United Nations statistics. A recent outbreak of cholera, fueled by unsanitary conditions and contaminated water supply, has resulted in 97,595 hospital visits and 2,193 deaths in the nation, according to the World Health Organization.

Violence resulting from the disputed results of the November presidential election in Haiti also has undermined the medical response to the epidemic, with the instability hindering the transport of resources, according to the health organization.

The Chattanooga-based Children's Nutrition Program in Haiti has done development work there for more than a decade and sent medical personnel on relief trips after the earthquake, Executive Director Kerry Kelly said. But a trip scheduled for late January has been canceled because of political unrest in Haiti, she said.

Money for rebuilding has been slow to funnel into the country, and a lot of preliminary work has to be done before the recovery effort can take effect in earnest, she said.

"Once the relief effort starts, once they're able to figure out how to get this ball rolling and the money starts going in, I think we will be able to see results," she said.


about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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