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January 22nd, 2010
05:17 PM ET

Children in Haiti

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Senior Medical Correspondent

For two days, he walked around with a little piece of paper taped to his shirt that read “Sean,” but his name isn’t really “Sean.” No one’s sure of his name, or how old he is, but Sean appears to be around eight. He’s one of several orphans who somehow ended up at this makeshift hospital near the airport I’ve been reporting from for two days.

An orphan at a makeshift hospital was given the name Sean. His real name is unknown.

The doctors here have really tried to take these orphans under their wings, getting them pain medications and dressing their wounds – Sean has a bandaged wrist and a bandaged head – but it’s impossible to be with them all the time, as they’re tending to more than 200 patients. This means Sean’s left on his own for periods of time, and he has trouble eating by himself. Since he has fractures in both wrists he has trouble holding a bottle of water or opening up a granola bar, one of the few things to eat here.

Sometimes when nobody else is nearby to help, my team and I feed Sean, holding up his water bottle to his mouth, or opening the granola bar wrapper. We’re not aid workers, but we’re here, right next to him. Thursday night Sean planted himself between me and CNN Medical Producer John Bonifield as we wrote our story. I think he liked our computer, or perhaps our company. Now it’s 2:30 Saturday morning, and I’m looking at Sean right now, sleeping on the floor. Wait a minute – now he’s stirring, crying out something in his sleep. Now he’s sitting up, now he’s wandering around crying. A nurse came to talk to him, asking him in Creole if he was in pain, but he didn’t seem to give much of an answer, and she had to go off to another patient. He kept crying and wandering around, and a second nurse is now giving him pain medication. He’s still wandering around crying; it seems there’s not much anybody can do.

Eline, an eight year old girl with fractured legs, was also alone here at this hospital for several days, but unlike Sean she can’t move around, so she was drenched in her own urine for days. The hospital hasn’t had the manpower to do things like clean up orphans, but Friday morning a volunteer from the University of Miami came to change her clothes. The only problem was the volunteer didn’t have any clothes to change her into, so she came over to me and John and asked if there were any extra hospital scrubs. Of course there weren’t – there’s not much extra of anything around here – so I gave her a t-shirt I’d brought with me. Then the volunteer realized she didn’t have anything to clean her with, so John gave her a pack of his baby wipes.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and retired NBA star Alonzo Mourning at a makeshift hospital in Haiti

Several hours later, a man came in with a photo of a little girl, asking if anyone had seen her. He’d been to the morgue, he’d been to other hospitals, he’d been everywhere, but he couldn’t find his daughter. Miraculously, he turned out to be Eline’s father. She’s not an orphan after all. Eline’s mom and dad are now with her, by her side as she recovers.

A few hours ago, a new orphan came in to take her place. I’m watching her sleep right now, the thin blue blanket that lays on top of her rises and falls as she breathes.

What will happen to these parentless children after they leave here? I asked Dr. Barth Green, who’s heading up this operation by the University of Miami. “They’ll probably be taken in by another family and made a slave. That’s what happens,” he says. He vows to make sure that won’t happen to the orphans under his care.

By the way, while I was typing away on my laptop a few hours ago, I heard a voice ask me for my used bottle of water today. I looked up – way up – and saw former NBA player Alonzo Mourning looking at me. Mourning is a friend of Green’s, and he flew down here to do what he could to help out. He helped administer IV’s, he’s been playing with Sean, and collected bottles to be cut up to use for splints. I know he’s a basketball player but to me he’s a rock star.

It’s now late morning on Saturday. I found a doctor who could translate what Sean’s been telling us into English. Why is he wandering around? He says he’s been looking for his mother and father.

Filed under: Elizabeth Cohen • Haiti Quake
January 22nd, 2010
03:48 PM ET

The only doc

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Louise Ivers, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, was at a meeting of the World Food Program in a United Nations building in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. She escaped to the building’s driveway unharmed. Within minutes of her arrival 350 injured Haitians gathered in her driveway, looking for medical help.

Ivers was the only doctor.

“It was overwhelming,” she says. “Several people bled to death while I tried to treat them. One girl’s skin was ripped off her hand and forearm, and you could see all the muscles and tendons. Then a father handed me a baby who was minutes away from dying, and I had to say ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.’”

Ivers, the country director for Haiti for Partners in Health and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard, got to work. She and Kim Cullen, her research assistant, set out to find materials they could turn into medical supplies.

“We ripped license plates off cars to use as splints. We took shirts off of people to use as tourniquets,” Ivers says.

Early the next morning, Ivers heard about a makeshift clinic with about fifty patients in a tent on the United Nations compound next to the
Port-au-Prince airport. She gathered together about 100 of the injured people she’d been treating, and set out for the clinic.

“I thought this was going to be an actual clinic with doctors,” she says. “But when I got there, I asked who was in charge, and someone said ‘Toi’ – you, you’re in charge. I said, ‘Really?’”

Again, she was the only doctor.

About fifty more patients arrived that night, bringing the total to about 200. A few physicians came and went for short periods, but she was basically on her own.

“It was overwhelming, the amount of trauma and injuries. I’ve worked in Haiti for seven years and I’ve never seen such suffering,” Ivers says. “To be a human being and see such suffering is bad enough, but to be a doctor and have no tools, no pain medication, is a horrible, horrible feeling.”

Finally, Wednesday at 5pm, help arrived in the form of Dr. Enrique Ginzburg and Dr. Daniel Pust, trauma surgeons from the University of Miami.

“For the first time, I thought to myself, ‘maybe these people have a chance,’” she says.

At 2 am Thursday, Ivers rested. She’d gone 48 hours without sleeping, eating, or even sitting down.

How did she handle being the only doc?

“I don’t know,” she says. “I think automatic mode kicks in.”

Filed under: Elizabeth Cohen • Haiti Quake
January 22nd, 2010
03:24 PM ET

An amazing survivor

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent

Nine-year-old Sende Sancil arrived at this makeshift hospital on the United Nations compound in Port-au-Prince with large gashes on her face, a horribly swollen knee, and green hair clips that matched perfectly with the green checks on her gingham shirt.

Survivor Sende Sancil hopes to reunite with her family

I know the clips are sort of a strange thing for me to notice, but they caught my eye immediately. I have four daughters, and so I know it takes effort to get everything to line up just right. Sende’s coordinated outfit tells me that on the morning of the earthquake, her mom or dad took a lot of care with her. I imagine how they lovingly braided her hair and found clips that matched her shirt, which appears to be part of a school uniform. I imagine how her parents said goodbye to her as she left for school on Tuesday.

Sende says when the earthquake hit Tuesday afternoon she was in a car and her parents were at home Maybe the earthquake separated Sende from her parents and they’re still alive somewhere, or maybe they’re dead. No one knows, but for an injured child all alone in a chaotic hospital filled with the sounds of pain and suffering, Sende is an amazing survivor. She’s calm and smiles at me when I come by to say hello (or maybe she’s laughing at my accent when I say “Bon jour!”).

Every day I’ve been here, I’ve prayed that today will be the day Sende’s parents come in, relieved to have finally found her, and they will lovingly take her in their arms, just as they lovingly picked out a matching shirt and hair clips for her to wear on Tuesday morning.

Filed under: Elizabeth Cohen • Haiti Quake
January 22nd, 2010
02:38 PM ET

The strength of the littlest victims

By Elizabeth Cohen
Senior Medical Correspondent

The wounds of the earthquake victims here at this makeshift hospital are so deep you can see the muscle and fat in the gaping holes. I watch doctors and nurses clean these wounds aggressively, because if they don’t get out all the dead tissue, infection will set in and quickly kill the patient.

As you might imagine, cleaning these wounds hurts like the devil, even with pain medication.

Nurse Fabienne Goutier, right, tends to Jean Wesley Marc, 4, and his father, Manes Marc, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

“I was cleaning a 3-inch deep wound in the calf on this 3-year-old boy. We gave him two shots of morphine first, and I told him I’d give him some candy when we were done,” says Fabienne Goutier, the charge nurse at the makeshift hospital where I’ve spent the past five days. “But he still screamed and screamed because I was really digging, digging, digging, getting out all that necrotic tissue.”

As promised, when she was done, Goutier, who’s working with Project Medishare in Haiti, gave the little boy candy.

She walked by the boy’s cot a short time later, and he looked up at her and smiled.

“Candy?” he said, offering her the sweets she’d just given him. “Candy?”

“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” says Goutier, who in her regular job works as a nurse at Homestead Hospital in Florida. ”After what I just did to you, you’re sharing your candy with me?”

The resilience of the 32 children here at this Port au Prince hospital continues to amaze me. Pretty much the only time I hear them cry is when they’re having their dressings changed when by all rights they should be wailing 24-7. I’m sure all of them have lost people they loved in the earthquake. They’re severely wounded, some with broken bones that are too complicated to set here. Food and water arrive sporadically. Many of them have had an arm or a leg amputated. They’re filthy and in a strange place, surrounded by grotesquely wounded people
Oh, and they also just experienced a terrifying, traumatizing earthquake.

Five of the kids have a special reason to cry: The hospital staff believe they’re orphans, alone in this hospital of 135 patients. There are more doctors and nurses around to attend to them now, but when I first arrived Thursday night the staff was sparse and running from emergency to emergency, and so for days the orphans were left on their own most of the time. When they had to urinate they had no choice but to do so in their clothes.

Despite all this, these kids are really quite calm. The ones I’ve seen aren’t fussing and aren’t panicked. They have nothing to do but look around hour after hour, day after day.

“I have yet to hear anyone complain,” says Tony Menendez, a trauma nurse at the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, who’s volunteering at the hospital. “They just lost their family, some of them just lost their limbs, and they’ve just come to accept it.”

I asked Goutier, who grew up in Haiti to explain to me how these children could be so calm and mature under such desperate circumstances.

“Haitians are very resilient,” she says. “Even little children are expected to be grown up and do things like carry water. When you’re 5, you’re 25.”

Filed under: Elizabeth Cohen • Haiti Quake
January 22nd, 2010
09:35 AM ET

Independents: Who are they and what do they want?

Independent voters are credited with launching Scott Brown to his stunning victory in Massachusetts this week.

Yesterday we wondered, just what is an independent voter? And what do they want? We got some great responses, so we're bringing the question back. Are you an independent voter? What presses your buttons? Leave your comments below. Tony Harris may use some of them on CNN NewsRoom, in the noon ET hour.

Filed under: Tony Harris