The worst earthquake in Nepal since 1934 occurred on April 25, 2015, causing more than 9,000 deaths, 22,000 injured and 450,000 people to become homeless. Nepal Orthopaedic Hospital (NOH) in Kathmandu immediately became inundated with an overwhelming number of casualties that had sustained multiple injuries, the vast majority of which required surgery. Those with open fractures were admitted for immediate care. Those with closed fractures were splinted, sent home and told to return in five to seven days for definitive care.
Immediately after the quake, NOH reached out to Operation Walk Chicago (OP Walk) for financial and staffing assistance. Op Walk, a charitable organization that does total joint replacements in third world countries, had made several trips to NOH in the past. OP Walk founders, Dr. David Stulberg and Dr. Vicky Brander, both Feinberg School of Medicine staff members, with the help of Northwestern Medicine’s Global Health Institute, carried out a successful fundraising effort and quickly assembled and dispatched a surgical team to Nepal.
Along with Scott Cordes, ’83 MD, ’88 GME, another Northwestern Medicine orthopaedic surgeon, and four other team members, we embarked for Kathmandu on May 5, where for the next 10 days we helped the valiant, but overwhelmed, NOH surgeons operate upon the many victims of the quake. Upon our arrival, we found the destruction in many parts of Nepal to be catastrophic. Rubble and ruins were everywhere. So many of the Nepalese people, who had so very little to begin with, lost all of what they had, including family and housing. However, their spirit was awe-inspiring … quiet, stoic, patient, uncomplaining, appreciative. In spite of their losses they rallied around one another, generously helping their neighbors dig out from the rubble.
The hospital was filled to capacity, with more than 150 patients spilling outside to beds under makeshift tarps and tents, awaiting surgical repair of their fractures. The three operating rooms were primitive but adequate. The OR staff was very capable and helpful. Adding to the drama and fright of the effort was a second earthquake, magnitude 7.3, on May 12 that occurred while our team was in the middle of an operation. The staff, who had previously been terrified and traumatized by the first quake, made certain the operation was successfully completed before they beat a hasty retreat from the hospital to safety.
Having been a surgeon on several previous Operation Walk Chicago trips to third world countries, I have found these experiences to be exhausting, but wonderfully satisfying and remarkably refreshing. All of us in medicine embarked upon our careers with a mission to help and care for others. All too often the daily chores of medical practice can begin to dull these lofty and inspirational goals. Going to Nepal and helping these people in the midst of devastating circumstances has provided a remarkable and meaningful reawakening of why I became a physician.
It was truly an honor and a privilege to be among my five colleagues as we cared for the wonderful people of Nepal – the heroes of the earthquake.