Treating Earthquake Victims in Haiti

Most days Dr. Bill Rutherford can be found making a difference for patients in the Indiana Universisty Health emergency room. But this accomplished doctor also played a pivotal role in the care of thousands of victims in the weeks and months following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Like many IU Health doctors, Dr. Rutherford is no stranger to mission work abroad. He has been going to Haiti for more than 20 years and has an established clinic he returns to at least two times a year. When the earthquake rocked this already devastated country, he knew he had to go.

“I’ve known these people, some of them for 20 years and it really is personal,” says Rutherford.

Because of the dire conditions, it took Dr. Rutherford and a colleague four days to enter the country. When they made it to their clinic, they found the need was overwhelming.

“When we walked in, there were about 3,000 people waiting for us, including about 900 patients,” says Rutherford.

The doctors worked 22-hour days in deplorable conditions with little to no medical equipment.

“There’s a medical definition for a disaster which is one more patient than you have resources,” says Rutherford. “By that definition, Haiti was a disaster on its best day. This almost became civil war medicine.”

Most of Rutherford’s supplies were buried under the rubble. He quickly adapted, making due with what was available.

“When you run out of casting material, which we did within hours, you learn that palm bark pulled off a tree and placed around the leg and wrapped with duct tape makes a really good cast. You just become very inventive,” says Rutherford.

Because there were simply no supplies, countless amputations were performed under local anesthesia followed up with two Tylenol for pain. Despite it all, the people were gracious and thankful.

Rutherford blogged about the countless faces he saw and stories he heard. His powerful words triggered an emotional outpouring from his team back home.

“I got email daily from people. There was financial support from people within the IU Health family,” says Rutherford.

Since the initial emergency, Rutherford has made four additional trips to help the people of Haiti. As the area slowly recovers he promises the people he now calls friends one thing.

“We will be back. I can’t imagine not going,” says Rutherford.