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Local docs in typhoon disaster zone

November 14, 2013

Dr. Mike Karch Photo/File Photo

Mammoth Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mike Karch and a group of 15 Mammoth Hospital surgeons, doctors and medical support volunteers are cold, wet and running out of supplies, but still managing to perform as many as 50 surgeries a day in the Philippine disaster zone.

“There are a few times in life when you make a swift, heartfelt decision because you know it’s the right thing to do, even if it means sacrifice, uncertainty and potential danger,” Karch said in a Mammoth Medical Missions update Sunday.

The first doctors on the scene on the Philippine island of Leyte after Typhoon Haiyan hit, Karch and the Mammoth Medical Missions team reported most of the surgeries are amputations and cleaning wounds, most of which were already infected.

At least one procedure, however, was an emergency cesarean section performed during a hard rain under a tarp held by fellow team members, said Mammoth Hospital pediatrician Dr. Kim Escudero, Karch’s wife.

“Last night they did an emergency cesarean section, delivering a healthy baby, with the mother doing well,” Escudero said in an email message late Tuesday evening.

“This emergency operation was done in the pouring rain by Dr. [Martha] Kim and Dr. [Richard] Koehler while wearing headlamps, and other team members holding up the tarp to keep as much rain out as possible. There was also a multiple stabbing scenario, which the team handled well as a group.”

Escudero said on Tuesday, Nov. 12, she was in contact with the nonprofit team her husband is leading since the team decided to go to the Philippines.

Mammoth Medical Missions is a medical relief group created after Mammoth’s Dr. Andrew Bourne, who did similar work, died almost two years ago.

Karch is a first-responder medical expert, having been among the first on the scene at Ground Zero in New York City on the day of the Twin Towers terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

In Mammoth, he has led disaster training at Mammoth Hospital. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the islands this past week, he made an immediate decision to go there.

Escudero said a medical relief team consisting of former military medical personnel called Team Rubicon arrived in Tanauan Tuesday.

The plan is for Team Rubicon to aid MMM, which is scheduled to return to California this weekend, Escudero said.

“Since arriving in Tanauan two days ago, Mammoth Medical Missions has performed nearly 100 operations, many of which have been amputations,” according to Team Rubicon’s website on Wednesday afternoon.

“Their chief medical officer (Karch) reports that nearly 100 percent of patients arriving to the field hospital are already carrying infection.”

The trip to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines was not in the cards for Mammoth Medical Missions until last Friday. On that day, the team was headed to Mexico for a long-planned medical mission. After hearing about the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan, the team chose to divert to the Philippines instead.

Mammoth Medical Missions arrived in Tanauan and began work on Monday, Nov. 11.

On their first day, Escudero wrote, the team battled debris, roofless buildings, and a massive influx of desperate residents, some needing amputations.

“The team spent an entire day cleaning out the town hall of water and glass, and have set up both their sleeping quarters and medical center there,” Escudero wrote Monday.

“By the time they began triaging patients, there were about 300 people outside waiting for help. The team has just finished their first day of surgery—55 surgeries in one day. The team has been very well received by the local people and is safe due to the large military detail attached to them,” she wrote.

The group is attached to the 505th air wing of the Philippine Air Force for security, she said.

Various national and international media have written or broadcast stories about the group since it left for the Philippines, including NBC news, who aired a segment on the team Wednesday evening.

As many as 10,000 deaths are being attributed to the typhoon, which hit the Philippines last week and caused a 13-foot storm surge, according to published reports.

Karch has repeatedly said it takes at least 72 hours for almost any relief to get to any mass casualty event—a statistic proved in the Philippines, where Escudero said the team is living on the rations and supplies they had with them.

The group is equipped with three surgical teams and more than 30 parcels of medical supplies, as well as a self-contained surgical tent, according to a news release from the group.

 “When we heard about the magnitude of this storm,” Karch wrote in his update, “we quickly convened our board and decided to change the course of a routine medical mission and respond to this large-scale disaster.

“I am confident our team has the skills and compassion, as well as the mental and physical endurance, to meet this challenge and save lives.”

With the team is James Bold, a physician’s assistant at Mammoth Hospital, and his 16-year-old son Carson, who volunteered with the group on a medical mission to Mexico two years ago, according to the update.

“When this came up, I said, ‘Are you ready for this?’” his mother, Pamela Bold, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Medical Missions, recalled telling her son Friday.

“This is what he wants to do.”

 

HOW TO DONATE:

Visit www.mammothmedicalmissions.org/donate.

WHAT IS MAMMOTH MEDICAL MISSIONS?

Mammoth Medical Missions is a secular, nonprofit, non-governmental volunteer organization based in Mammoth Lakes, which provides medical, surgical, dental, and general health-care services to under served rural and mountain communities worldwide, as well as emergency medical response and field triage in case of large-scale disaster and/or mass casualty. For more about Mammoth Medical Missions, visit www.mammothmedicalmissions.org.

Mission updates can be found on its Facebook page.

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