In the wake of last month’s devastating earthquake in the Pakistan border region, eight doctors and nurses from the GW Hospital traveled across the world to lend their hands and medical expertise to injured victims.
The volunteer team of medical professionals, dubbed Operation Heart Beat, traveled to Garhi Dopatta in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir Oct. 14 to set up a make-shift hospital to aid people wounded in the quake.
While only a few of the doctors had experience in disaster relief medicine, the group still managed to perform minor surgeries and treat fractures, spinal injuries, skull lacerations and infected wounds, said Farzad Najam, an assistant professor of surgery and native of Pakistan, who organized the trip.
“It was a few doctors who had no prior experience, got together their own funds, packed their bags, and within four or five days cut the red tape in Pakistan to be able to set up a hospital,” Najam said.
A total of 25 doctors and nurses from Boston, New Hampshire, California and Nevada joined Najam and other GW medical experts on the weeklong trip. GW Hospital donated $75,000 worth of medical supplies to the “American Hospital,” including medicines, antibiotics, surgical supplies, generators and tents.
GW senior Daniel Lee was the only student to join the mission. Lee, who works as an Intensive Care Unit technician at the GW Hospital, aided patients in Kashmir by administering intravenous medicines, basic wound care and helping with surgery.
Lee said he decided to go to Pakistan because he felt compelled to do more than donate money.
“You can give money to Red Cross or UNICEF, but sometimes you have to do more than that, Lee said. “You have to do something directly.”
Lee added that seeing the earthquake’s damage first-hand had a great impact on him.
“These people were carrying their wounded. They had no medical care for eight or nine days,” he said. “Bones were crushed. Bones were sticking out of bodies. (Peoples’) houses literally fell on top of them.”
About 4,000 people have been treated at the temporary hospital since it opened Oct. 15, Najam said, adding that the site treats up to 600 patients a day and will continue to operate for another six to eight weeks. Lee said people traveled for hours and days to get to the temporary hospital.
Haroon Rashid, an assistant professor of medicine who works at both Georgetown and GW hospitals, said he felt compelled to go on the mission because he has family that lives near the areas hit by the quake. Rashid said he was surprised to find so many people with complicated injuries that had not yet been treated.
“I was surprised by the lack of international aid,” he said. “Right now we are working to raise awareness and recruit more volunteers.”
Najam said doctors from around the country continue to call him in an effort to volunteer at the hospital in Garhi Dopatta. He said the Pakistani army has asked him to open up additional hospitals in other hard-hit areas where many people still need medical attention. Operation Heart Beat is now working to raise enough money to set up a permanent hospital and open a school in Garhi Dopatta.
“The level of destruction and level of help that is needed is so great,” Lee said. “You can think about theories and nicely packaged ideas, but try to comprehend this level of destruction. It’s massive.”