Dozens in Haiti now lose limbs

2010-01-19 10:41

For two days, Ticia Vital refused doctors’ pleas to allow them to

amputate her festering left leg, even as the gangrene spread and the alternative

became death.

But after a sleepless night filled with pain, the 19-year-old

agreed - becoming one of scores of Haitians who have lost their limbs to the

magnitude-7.0 earthquake that has devastated millions.

In a country where life is difficult in the best of times, the

prospect of a future without an arm or leg is especially dismaying.

“What will I do? How will I manage to survive on my own with just

one leg?” Vital asked, lying lethargically on a metal bed frame at Renaissance

Hospital, which Cuban doctors founded for eye care in 2006 and swiftly converted

to a trauma unit after last Tuesday’s quake.

Doctors in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince say they have

performed numerous amputations of hands, arms and legs. An exact count is

impossible to make as overworked medical staff race to care for tens of

thousands of patients overflowing hospital wards into parks and gardens.

“We have had to perform dozens of amputations, including many

double amputations,” said Dr Diana Lardy of the Los Angeles-based International

Medical Corps. “The problem is people haven’t gotten medical care soon enough,

so wounds are very infected. Some of them are coming in with bones just sticking

out from the rest of the leg.”

While most injuries occurred when buildings collapsed, Lardy said

she also is seeing patients with gashes and other injuries caused by amateur

rescuers who frantically dug survivors from rubble with whatever tools they

could find.

“We have dozens and dozens of patients waiting for surgery,

including dozens of amputations, and people are still coming in,” said Lardy, of

Madison, Wisconsin.

Ward space is short. Some buildings at the Port-au-Prince General

Hospital, including two operating rooms, suffered quake damage.

Doctors performed 45 amputations at Renaissance in three days, said

Dr Olga Maria Delgado of Havana. Most were done outside on a white-tiled counter

under a tin roof in the hospital gardens.
 She said sterility was less of an

issue than usual because most of the wounds already are infected.

At first, patients refused to come inside the hospital for fear the

building would collapse from aftershocks. But the operating room finally moved

indoors on Monday, starting with Vital’s surgery.

As they passed, people held handkerchiefs to their noses against

the stench of Vital’s rotting leg. Flies buzzed around the sheet that covered

her and settled on an exposed ankle bandage oozing puss.

“She repeatedly refused to have her leg cut,” said her cousin,

Chantal Felix. “But I talked her into it, and she had to accept it after the

doctors told her the gangrene was spreading and that she would die.”

Vital and Felix work selling second-hand shoes in the Bel Air slum,

where they share a room with Felix’s 11-year-old daughter.

“What will we do now?” Vital moaned. “What will we do?“

Unfortunately, her worries about the future may not matter. After

the operation, with her leg cut above the knee, surgeon Dr Frank Diaz said Vital

was severely infected and suffering scepticemia.

“She’s not been responding well to all the antibiotics we’re giving

her,” he said. “I think she has a 90% chance of dying.”


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