Sound Shore Medical Center Chief of Foot and Ankle Surgery Takes His Talents to Haiti

Sound Shore Medical Center (SSMC) salutes our Chief of Foot and Ankle Surgery, James McWilliam, MD who just returned from a humanitarian mission to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

New Rochelle, NY – March 17, 2010 – Working through the University of Miami, Dr. James McWilliam was invited to join a surgical team headed for Haiti. Orthopaedic, plastic and general surgeons, OB/GYN physicians and a full complement of nurses, physical therapists and anesthesiologists boarded a chartered plane and flew to Port-au-Prince, which was their final destination. For the next week, they worked out of three 5,000 square foot tents set up on the airport grounds. These temporary spaces represented sleeping quarters for the team, as well as hospital and operating rooms. The space housed 150 adults and 30 pediatric inpatients. In addition, it provided an Intensive Care Unit for 5 adults, 5 children and 4 babies.

It seems with word of the American doctors’ arrival, the usual number of cases grew to more than 300 a day – and at least 1/3 of those were orthopaedic in nature. And since the temporary hospital represented the only trauma center in the region, the Emergency Tent was busy with a variety of injuries. Not only were the doctors treating victims of the earthquake, they were seeing injuries related to its aftermath: construction and vehicle accidents as well as gunshot and knife wounds. With the demand for medical care so high and the resources limited, the team set up a triage process that included the physicians actually walking the “waiting line” to ask what had brought the patient to the hospital. Individuals with post-traumatic stress issues – persistent headaches and dizziness – had to wait while those with infections, unset bones and more serious needs were seen first.

The surgical team’s expertise was capable of sophisticated procedures, but their talents were drastically limited by the local conditions, particularly the presence of infection. In addition to fractures, infection and wound care follow up, the team saw many whose injuries – now six weeks after the earthquake – had not been treated. Broken bones, amputations, as well as the need to stabilize bones – using external rather than internal means because of increased risk of infection – were just some of the orthopaedic procedures performed.

Dr. McWilliam was amazed at how quickly news traveled about the arrival of American doctors. A charitable organization sent a young girl for help. She had not suffered injury from the earthquake, but rather had a congenital foot deformity that greatly compromised her quality of life and made mobility difficult. While the orthopaedic team had the expertise, their temporary location lacked an appropriate sterile environment to ensure an excellent outcome. She was transported to a hospital 80 miles away for care.

President and CEO of Sound Shore Medical Center, John R. Spicer, commenting on the Haitian trip said, “Sound Shore Medical Center’s mission is built on the foundation of community outreach. With Dr. McWilliam’s humanitarian mission, he has taken our caring to the global community.” He concluded, “The Board of Governors, Administration and staff join me in commending Dr. McWilliam on his caring and compassion and for making a difference in the lives of so many in Haiti.”

Dr. McWilliam is a member of the Specialty Orthopaedics practice, located at 600 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 101, Harrison, NY, 914.686.0111.

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