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article imageKim O'Brien, An Angel of Milot Special

By KJ Mullins     Feb 23, 2010 in Health
On January 12 an earthquake shook Haiti killing at least 200,000. A ray of hope for victims of the disaster came from a hospital in the city of Milot.
It's been six weeks since the world changed in Haiti. A tiny town, Milot, with a population of 65 swelled to nearly 400 people as victims were airlifted to its hospital from Port-au-Prince. The residents have been giving their all to provide for the victims. Emergency medical teams from across the world flew in to help victims have a chance of survival.
Kim O'Brien, a physician assistant from Washington D.C., was one of the many angels that made a difference. This is her story.
"My time in Milot was a life changing experience, one I will never forget or regret. Maybe it's why I became a PA late in life, for this very moment."
O'Brien is humble. She had contacted me about an earlier article on the hospital I had written that featured a photo that a young girl, Maruska was in. Maruska is now an orphan who O'Brien worked on. Today she is doing well in the pediatrics unit where she was a star during the Valentine's Day party thrown by staff and volunteers. Hogging the mike she sang for the other kids on the unit.
I was in Milot  Haiti 5 days after the earthquake and treated the little girl in KJ Mullins January ...
I was in Milot, Haiti 5 days after the earthquake and treated the little girl in KJ Mullins January 27th post. I returned to Sacre Coeur Hospital last week and found the same little girl in our pediatrics ward. She's doing much better and was star of the Valentine's Day party we threw for the patients!
"Maruska said the blessing for the meal that day. It was wonderful to see her doing so well and smiling," Kim said proudly. It was evident how much this child and the other children she had helped had touched her.
Kim was part of the first team of ortho surgeons and nurses at Milot. As of this week there have been a total of eight teams dealing with hundreds of patients.
The team had to deal with limited equipment and operating rooms during their stay. With only three ORs they worked for 16 to 18 hours a day. The first few days the team had to perform amputation after amputation, patients were arriving with open wounds that had not been cared for. Infections left the doctors will no other choice.
The team arrived the first Sunday after the quake. As they came up to the hospital a helicopter landed carrying four patients. The team went straight to work not leaving the operating room until hours later.
By the end of that first week O'Brien says that the team could see the triage work of the USS Comfort and were able to perform surgeries to fix fractures instead of cutting off limbs. By the end of their week in Milot the team had 240 operations under their belt and 250 to 300 patients.
When I asked her about doing an interview to profile herself she said yes if it would help bring awareness to the need of medical personnel and donations for the victims of this horrible natural disaster.
O'Brien has been to the Crudem Hospital twice since the earthquake, arriving the first time the Sunday after the quake and then just last week she returned. Last week she worked with many of those that had been her patients during the first trip, helping them with their stump care.
O'Brien is in the above video, the caring physician assistant in tears near the end leaving the OR after yet another amputation during the first week of the relief effort.
"Haiti is going to have an entire generation of young amputees. Their needs are different than those of adult amputees. They will need surgeries once or twice every year until they stop growing. People forget that the remaining bones still grow, without further medical care these children are in danger. Their bones will grow out of their stumps causing open wounds."
Kim put out a call for PAs to come and help. Last week there were 7 or 8 other PAs on hand assisting in the emergency and operating rooms.
"There aren't as many fractures coming in but infectious disease is becoming a problem." O'Brien said that in Port-au-Prince infectious diseases are rampant and Milot is struggling caring for the ill.
"I, myself got sick last week."
Kim didn't let being ill stop her. She was treated with IV meds and went right back to work. When she arrived back to her home in Virginia she was still not well. On Sunday she went to hospital for additional IV treatment so she could work on Monday. There is no doubt this woman is an angel to those she tends for.
Last week while in Milot villagers alerted the doctors that a local man had just been in a scooter accident. The man arrived at hospital with a serious head injury and leg fracture. Because the ortho team and a neuro surgeon was on site he went straight to the OR where both teams worked on him together. He was recovering three hours later and is now on the road to recovery.
Crudem is in Milot year round. They assist the handful of local doctors with specialized care and education. Because of the US medical teams that volunteer their time at the hospital when the quake hit they were ready but not for the huge numbers that came to them. When the quake hit a team of general surgerons was at the site for their yearly trip volunteering.
"There is no additional support coming in. There are no tent cities other than what Crudem has provided. There are no food supplies coming in." O'Brien sadly asked, "How do you tell a seven-year-old orphan that he has to return to Port-au-Prince and find his own home? Milot needs an extreme amount of international support from medical to shelter to food. The UN and the Red Cross need to help this place out."
Kim has just returned from her work in Haiti, Monday was her first day back to work at the Children's National Medical Center where she works in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. On Monday she spent the day in surgery assisting a young patient undergoing a spinal operation. The operation started in the late morning not ending until mid-evening. O'Brien tirelessly worked, even weakened by illness that she suffered while in Haiti.
During the course of our interview Kim stressed the needs of the CRUDEM foundation and the hospital in Milot. She said that she hoped that this article would draw attention to the work being done in Haiti and the vast needs that will continue for the nation.
I asked Kim what she took away from Milot.
"The overwhelming good in the world. To see the village people care for the orphans. They stepped up to the plate and just gave totally of themselves. It fills your heart. The world is not an evil place."
Thinking back on her time in Milot a sadness came, the young people she left behind whose lives are altered by their amputations.
"At some point we ask ourselves 'are you doing good for these people', we know we are but Haiti is already such a miserable place to grow up. Now these children, what will be left for them. Will there be help later when they will need it the most?"
O'Brien wants to return yearly to Milot. Before she returns though she will be working a week in Ghana, again an angel of mercy.
More about Kim obrien, Milot, Volunteer
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