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Doctor in Haiti: Wounded children calling for missing parents

By Arthur Brice, CNN
  • Louisiana doctor helping in Haiti: One tough thing is seeing new orphans
  • Dr. Elizabeth Bellino was supposed to be in Africa this week
  • She delayed Africa plans after Haiti earthquake happened
  • Field hospitals need more supplies, she says

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) -- Pediatrician Elizabeth Bellino was supposed to start work in Africa this week. Instead, she found herself trying to save lives Wednesday at a field hospital in Haiti's capital.

She wishes she had more painkillers and antibiotics, and she wishes some parents would do what's best for their children.

"We're seeing a lot of kids getting amputated," Bellino said. "We've also seen a lot of refusals from parents, and they left.

"So those kids will probably die."

She'd seen three cases of parents walking out with their children in the past 24 hours, Bellino said late Wednesday afternoon.

Although she just arrived Tuesday, Bellino has already seen too much.

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"It's been intense, sad," the doctor said. "We've seen a lot of kids calling for their moms and dads, and we don't know where they are.

"It's heartbreaking."

Her week was supposed to start very differently. Bellino, a physician at the Tulane Hospital for Children in New Orleans, Louisiana, was scheduled to fly Monday to Uganda, where she was to start a six-month fellowship as the staff pediatrician at Mutolere Hospital.

But she got a call Friday from doctors at the University of Miami asking if she wanted to join them in Port-au-Prince, where a 7.0-magnitude earthquake January 12 had caused widespread devastation.

She told herself, "I guess Africa can wait another week."

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She's been working at two large tent-like structures at the United Nations compound near the airport. More than 200 patients are crowded onto cots about a foot apart. Diagnosis and treatment are noted on homemade charts drawn on lined school paper.

Nearly all of the patients were injured in last week's temblor, though a few recent arrivals had suffered wounds in a 5.9 magnitude aftershock Wednesday morning.

Many of the patients sustained crushing injuries to arms and legs, breaking bones and causing deep gashes. Bellino is also seeing many infections in wounds that have not been treated in up to a week.

List of missing, found people in Haiti

She brought 40 pounds of antibiotics with her, but the field hospital needs more. It needs painkillers, too, as well as other medicines.

"So we're having to treat them with what we have and not necessarily the right thing," she said.

Bellino can't understand why the hospital can't get more medications, especially since it's adjacent to the airport, where aid shipments arrive.

She also wishes she'd thought to bring more baby bottles and formula.

"A lot of the babies were being breast-fed, and their mothers died," Bellino said.

What will happen to those orphans? "I have no idea," she said.

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Although she will see fewer trauma cases in Africa, the work will be no easier. Many of her 30 to 40 patients, she said, will suffer from malnutrition, tuberculosis and HIV.

She found that out in two trips to Uganda last year. "It's always malnutrition," Bellino said.

Asked about her biggest challenges in Haiti so far, she says that professionally it's the lack of antibiotics.

Personally, Bellino said, it's the many orphans doctors are having to treat.

"They're calling for their moms and dads. They don't know where they are. It's sad."

Bellino, a 33-year-old Alexandria, Virginia, native, said she's always wanted to go to Africa and work in international health.

Working in New Orleans, a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, she also likes to pitch in during times of greatest need, she says.

"I feel like these events just keep falling into my lap. I'm taking a liking to them," she said.

When her shift was over Wednesday, though, she had a more immediate need.

"I actually need to find a shower," Bellino said. "It's on my to-do list."

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