Miller Neurological Surgery Team Treats Patients with Spinal Cord Injuries in Haiti

Embarking on the first of many anticipated medical specialty missions, a Miller School neurological surgery team arrived at the University’s hospital in Haiti Friday and began treating earthquake survivors with spinal cord injuries.

Led by Michael Wang, M.D., associate professor of neurological surgery and rehabilitation medicine, the team planned to work through the weekend, performing minimally invasive fracture fixations so the newly paralyzed patients can be moved.

“This approach will reduce the likelihood of infection and wound healing problems associated with traditional open spinal surgeries,” Wang said.

For the hospital’s less severely injured patients, wound care is becoming an increasingly difficult problem. That’s not because earthquake survivors and the growing number of trauma patients from post-quake accidents aren’t receiving adequate care — on the contrary, many patients are ready for discharge, but have nowhere to go.

“They have no home,” Michael Kolber, M.D., professor of medicine and an infectious disease specialist, reported to the UM Global Institute’s Haiti Relief Task Force Friday morning.

“These people don’t need to be in the hospital, but they cannot be in the street. It’s a major problem. We wrestle with it on a daily basis.”

Kolber, who is wrapping up his rotation as the chief medical officer at the hospital the University opened two weeks ago at the edge of the Port-au-Prince airport, has frequently noted how the volunteer doctors, nurses and administrators from the Miller School and beyond manage to do so much with so little.

He gave one particularly uplifting example: Thursday night, staffers who delivered a premature baby by C-section came up with an ingenious warmer: “They used MREs to warm the baby,” Kolber said. “It’s really a cool story. We were all pretty happy to hear that.”

The military’s Meals-Ready-to-Eat come with flameless heaters that use a simple chemical reaction to warm food.

In addition to surgeries, Wang’s team, which included Robert Irwin, M.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation medicine, and five other spinal cord injury specialists, was to begin taking preliminary steps to tackle another monumental task: building Port-au-Prince’s first comprehensive spinal cord injury rehabilitation center so SCI survivors can remain in Haiti.

“This outreach program is intended to build the knowledge base, infrastructure, and organizational scaffold so the people of Haiti can independently manage this complicated and life-threatening problem,” Wang said.

Like much of the University’s medical relief efforts in Haiti, the spinal cord mission was initiated by Barth Green, M.D., professor and chair of neurological surgery, who led the first medical team to Port-au-Prince after the earthquake left the capital in ruins. A decade after co-founding The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in 1985, Green co-founded the Global Institute’s Project Medishare with Arthur Fournier, M.D., professor of family medicine and associate dean for community health affairs, to improve health care access in Haiti. Their longstanding commitment and deep ties to the impoverished nation facilitated the University’s quick and ongoing role in the earthquake relief effort.

In addition to health care professionals, raising money for the Global Institute to support the University’s doctors, nurses and students in Haiti remains a priority. You may make an online donation directly to the Global Institute or send a check made out to the “University of Miami-Global Institute” to P.O. Box 248073, Coral Gables, Florida, 33124.

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