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'Everyone is capable of helping' in Haiti

January 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
[Editor's note: Eyewitness News Anchor David Ono and ABC7 Photographer Sean Patrick Lewis arrived Monday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to cover events following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Tuesday, Jan. 12.]Today was our first full day to really get out there and spend some time with citizens of Port-au-Prince. The level of destruction is unprecedented, the suffering unimaginable. I've seen many disasters, and you just can't put into words what is going on in this city.

When you see these images on television or in real life, you often ask yourself, "What can I do as an individual to help?" And the answer to that, of course, is you can do a tremendous amount. And I have the perfect guy to show you how.

SPRINGING INTO ACTION

A man from Los Angeles saw the earthquake, made some phone calls and put a team of medical technicians and doctors together. They went into Haiti through the Dominican Republic.

The team has been in Haiti for several days. They've been doing unbelievable work and saving lives. I met with them Tuesday, and they put me to work.

Jake Wood is from Los Angeles. He's former military, and he's serving as team leader for a group of eight medics and doctors now in Port-au-Prince making a huge impact.

Wood is not the type to hesitate for a second. As soon as the earthquake struck, he decided to act.

"The first guy I got a hold of, we were college roommates, and I called him up, said 'Jeff, you want to go to Haiti?' And he said, 'Sure, dude, when do we leave?'" said Wood.

Their triage units are saving lives. Like one little boy named Peterson. He's been suffering from a broken femur for a week now. You could see how swollen his leg was.

"If he doesn't see a doctor, the break is probably only going to get worse," said Wood. "There's a chance that could affect his femoral artery. And if his femoral artery gets damaged, it goes downhill fast from there."

Wood quickly springs everyone into action, including me and my crew. We load up our own vehicle with his more-serious patients. We, as a team, rush them to the hospital. Everyone, he tells me -- and shows me -- is capable of helping.

GENERAL HOSPITAL

We took Peterson from the clinic and drove about 20 minutes to General Hospital. There was a tremendous amount of activity. There are surgeons here brought in from the United States. The U.S. Army is here protecting the gates of the hospital.

They are able to administer aid quickly. You saw how quickly we got Peterson out of our vehicle into a stretcher, and he's now going into surgery. That's how quickly they're acting here. That could save that little boy's life.

As we go inside the picture becomes grim: So much suffering in deplorable conditions. One woman was about to die. There was nothing more to be done other than to make her as comfortable as possible.

People pulled from the rubble often have what we would term minor injuries -- maybe a cut or a contusion -- but because injuries are becoming infected, because the water here is polluted, because there's no running water left, they can't bathe or clean wounds properly, and infections become fatal. These injuries would not be fatal or anywhere near fatal in other places, like the U.S. There is not enough clean water or antibiotics, and there are not enough doctors to help the people.

When Jake Wood put his team together on the flight down to the Dominican Republic, he asked for volunteers. Six doctors raised their hands. He grabbed a couple of them, put them on his team, and they came into Haiti. Now, one of those doctors is running this whole General Hospital emergency room. His name is Dr. David Griswell.

"Yeah, we met at the airport," said Griswell. "It was providential, actually, because it's worked out very well. I just came alone. I didn't have any particular team to insert with, and so it worked out very well.

"I've seen a lot of poverty, I've done a lot of work in disasters. Never in my life have I seen anything that approximates this. The worst of [1998 Hurricane] Mitch makes it looks like a tea party. The people here are just suffering incredibly. No amount of aid is too much."

Part of my fear is that though we as Americans are helping out how we can right now, we often get distracted. The concern here is that though they will need tremendous help for many years to come, Haiti will be forgotten. We need to keep it in our consciousness and understand that this country will need a lot of help for a long, long time.

"A lot of people right now want to feel sorry about the state of affairs in America, with the economy and healthcare and everything like that," said Wood. "They just really need to realize that what they're seeing on TV isn't a Third World country on another continent across an ocean. It's 500 miles off of Florida.

"If you have any shred of human decency in you, you do what you can to get down here or to get people down here who can help. I mean, the people that we've seen today, the people we saw yesterday, they haven't seen a doctor in seven days, since the quake. And it's just unacceptable for the world community to stand idly by and see that, and not react."


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