Monday, February 15, 2010

Loving Children Everywhere: Lessons from Haiti

“A young boy, twisting and turning, crying in his sleep as his father frantically tries to awaken him; a girl screaming in pain as her leg wound from an amputation is being changed and redressed; another boy’s eyes filling with tears as he gazes for the first time upon his right hand, realizing two of his fingers are no longer there;” are just a few of Nicholas Erbrich’s lasting memories.

Dr. Erbrich was one of twelve members of a team from Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey who recently returned from Haiti. His mission had a profound impact on him personally and professionally, reminding him why he chose to be a doctor in the first place. As a pediatrician, Dr. Erbrich was able to provide to care to many children badly in need. Here are some of the reflections he shared about his experience.

“When we arrived, an opportunity essentially found us,” he recalls. “We found a church that had taken in a lot of Haitian refugees who were essentially post-operative patients. The only doctors who were there to care for the children were one internist and one family practitioner who was leaving the next day. It was fortunate that when we arrived there was an immediate need for my services.”

Dr. Erbrich took care of kids with broken bones, post-operative wounds, and crushing injuries. Amid all the tragedy, he is able to reflect on many good outcomes. He treated a 13 year old boy who had an injury to his leg which had been casted before the Cooper team arrived. Since no x-rays had been taken, they didn’t know the extent of his injury.

“We fought very hard at the local hospital to get him the x-ray,” recalls Dr. Erbrich. “You can imagine, with only one x-ray machine it was quite difficult to get it, but we were persistent. I was able to show that x-ray to a pediatric orthopedic surgeon who was also volunteering his services, and we determined that it was in the best interest of this young boy to have surgery. He still had a few years left to grow, and had we not fixed this surgically, it might have resulted in him having a leg length discrepancy which would have made it difficult for him to walk later.”

There was also a ray of hope in the cries of a newborn baby. “This baby had literally been born three days after the earthquake and by the time I arrived, the baby was four days old,” says Dr. Erbrich. “Just being able to provide some reassurance and routine care to this first-time mother, who essentially didn’t know anything about childcare, was a very gratifying experience. The mother then came up to me and said she wanted me to bless the child.”

Dr. Erbrich admits that his experience was profoundly life-changing. “I realize that we get so caught up in our petty lives here in the states,” he explains. “Going over there and utilizing my clinical skills and what I had at my disposal made me realize why I went into medicine in the first place.”

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