British doctor Ian Miskin tells of hell in Haiti

Hero doctor comes home to tell of Haiti

By Marcus Dysch, February 4, 2010
Emergency: The IDF team rescue a Haitian trapped for 125 hours

Emergency: The IDF team rescue a Haitian trapped for 125 hours

A British doctor has described in detail for the first time the incredible effort made by Israeli medics to help victims of the Haitian earthquake.

Dr Ian Miskin and his team treated more than 1,100 survivors, conducting 400 operations and working round the clock to scour the devastated island for improvised supplies and equipment.

Colleagues were even forced to strip machinery found in collapsed buildings to retrieve screws for use in operations on damaged limbs.

The 53-year-old, one of Israel’s foremost specialists in treating infectious diseases, returned to Jerusalem after a fortnight helping those rescued from the rubble of Port-au-Prince.

Dr Miskin, originally from Hampstead Garden Suburb, north west London, said: “When we arrived we put up the hospital in about five hours and then we worked solid for five days.

“We had the only operating theatre, the only lab, the only ultrasound. The lab was a 12ft by 12ft tent. There was no air conditioning; it was hot, humid and tropical, even in the theatre.

“Almost all the injuries we saw were limb infections that were four or five days old by the time people got to us.”

With supplies stretched to breaking point, the Israeli team formed alliances with medics from all over the world.

They worked side-by-side with a team from Colombia, at times operating on neighbouring tables or even jointly conducting surgery on patients.

But little could have prepared him for the sheer scale of the task. With superior facilities to other international teams, there was ever-increasing strain on the Israelis’ resources.

He said: “During one operation we ran out of a particular type of screw for bone fixing. One of our guys went into town and found some machinery and found a screw that could be adapted and used for the operation. Everyone worked to the absolute maximum.

“Nothing was easy. Everything we had with us had been scrounged or borrowed before we left Israel. We grabbed what we could and took it on the plane.

“We had a sterilising machine; no one else did. We were sterilising equipment for other people because we could achieve higher temperatures.”

They relied on a full security team outside the tents to keep the crowds of Haitians needing treatment calm and properly assessed.

“If you ask the team now what they did then, nobody remembers. You just worked until you were about to sleep, and then you called someone to come and cover for you. We slept where we fell.”

After returning to Jerusalem, Dr Miskin is now modestly reflecting on the whirlwind of activity after the earthquake and the realisation that the Israeli team saved dozens of lives.

“The whole delegation realises we did something special there. Nobody was really ready but we did what we had to do to keep things running. We did a lot in a short space of time.

“I’m very proud of what we did as Israel. For a country that is 16 hours’ flight away and with no supplies ready when the quake hit we showed tremendous resilience to do what we did.”

A six-year-old boy, Woodley Elysee, has been brought over from Haiti by the Israeli rescue team to be treated for a congenital heart defect at the Edith Wolfson Medical Centre in Holon.

He underwent surgery this week to cure his cyanotic heart condition — an inadequate supply of oxygenated blood to his heart and lungs.

Last updated: 6:33pm, February 4 2010