Mammoth Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mike Karch and the group of 15 Mammoth Hospital surgeons, doctors and medical support volunteers who are still the only medical team on the Philippine island of Leyte are wet and cold, but performing as many as 50 surgeries a day, including an emergency cesarean section in pouring rain, according to Karch's wife, Mammoth Hospital pediatrician Dr. Kim Escudero.
"Mike and the team are doing much better today," she said in an email Tuesday night, Nov. 12. "The team has weathered the storm and are in much better spirits. Last night they did an emergency cesarean section, delivering a healthy baby, with the mother doing well. This emergency operation was done in the pouring rain by Dr. (Martha) Kim and Dr. (Richard) Koehler while wearing headlamps, and other team members holding up the tarp to keep as much rain out as possible. There was also a multiple stabbing scenario which the team handled well as a group.
Escudero has been in intermittent contact with Karch and the Mammoth Medical Missions non-profit group he heads due to communication problems caused by Tyhoon Haiyan. Last Friday, the team was headed to Mexico for a long-planned medical mission, but chose to divert to the Philippines instead after hearing about the typhoon.
"Last night a military convoy came through and delivered a supply of rice to the town, she said. "It was a good start for the town's relief. They did not provide any rations for MMM (Mammoth Medical Missions), but Mike states that they are still doing okay with their rations. It was still early there in Tanauan, but Mike anticipates that they will perform 40-50 surgeries today.
She said a medical relief team that has connections to some MMM members, Team Rubicon, has landed in the city of Tacloban about 30 miles away, but "has yet to arrive in Tanauan" where Karch and the group are working.
"MMM is currently the only medical unit on the island of Leyte," she said.
All roads to the city are littered or blocked with debris, making access by ground almost impossible, she said.
Mammoth Medical Missions arrived in Taunauan and began work on Monday., Nov. 11. It was—and is—the only medical relief the town has seen so far.
On their first day, Escudero wrote, the team battled debris, roofless buildings, and a massive influx of desperate residents, some needing amputations.
“The team spent an entire day cleaning out the town hall of water and glass, and have set up both their sleeping quarters and medical center there," Escudero wrote Monday. "By the time they began triaging patients, there were about 300 people outside waiting for help. The team has just finished their first day of surgery ... 55 surgeries in one day! They are mostly amputations and debridement of wounds due to lots of infections.
“The team has been very well received by the local people and are safe due to the large military detail attached to them," she wrote.
“After consulting with the Philippine Embassy, the Philippine Red Cross and Team Rubicon, a Los Angeles-based disaster response service organization, the team arrived in Manila on Saturday, one of the “first non -military humanitarian aid on the ground,” according to an email from Karch last weekend.
The group is attached to the 505th air wing of the Philippine Air Force for security, he said.
As many as 10,000 deaths are being attributed to the typhoon which hit the Philippines last week, with at least 1,000 of those in the area Karch and the group is now working in after the storm caused a 13-foot storm surge, according to Los Angeles Times reporting on the storm.
The team, part of a non-profit medical relief group formed after Dr. Andre Bourne died almost two years ago, was headed for a long-planned medical relief trip to Chiapas, Mexico, when Karch and the rest of the team decided to try to divert to the Philippines after hearing about the devastation.
Karch has a long history of being trained and training others to respond to mass casualty events and gave his most recent training in Mammoth this fall during the week of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
He has repeatedly noted it takes at least 72 hours for relief to get to any mass casualty event, a statistic borne out this time in the Philippines, where the team is living on the rations and supplies they had with them; rations that they had planned to be supplemented by their waiting medical partners in Mexico, not that would have to last for four days.
The group is equipped with three surgical teams and more than 30 parcels of medical supplies as well as a self-contained surgical tent, according to a news release from the group. The team also has a satellite phone, so status updates will be made daily.
“There are a few times in life when you make a swift, heartfelt decision because you know it’s the right thing to do, even if it means sacrifice, uncertainty and potential danger,” Karch said in a Mammoth Medical Mission update Sunday.
“When we heard about the magnitude of this storm, we quickly convened our board and decided to change the course of a routine medical mission and respond to this large-scale disaster. I am confident our team has the skills, compassion as well as mental and physical endurance to meet this challenge and save lives.”
With the team is James Bold, a physician's assistant at Mammoth Hospital, and his 16-year-old son Carson, who volunteered with the group on a medical mission to Mexico two years ago.
“When this came up, I said, ‘Are you ready for this?’” his mother, Pamela Bold, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Medical Missions recalled telling her son Friday.
“This is what he wants to do.”
The group is expected to be in the Philippines for at least a week and will send reports on their work daily via satellite phone and the group’s Facebook page, Pamela Bold said.
“We quickly moved from needing to support a routine medical mission to being the first responder in a massive disaster relief effort,” said Gilanne Bourne, treasurer of Mammoth Medical Missions, in a news release. “Obviously, we weren’t able to conduct any fundraising to secure donations or in-kind gifts in advance of this emergency mission, so we are grateful for any support from the community and well-wishers everywhere to help us aid the people of the Philippines.”
To donate, go to: www.mammothmedicalmissions.org/donate .
WHO IS MAMMOTH MEDICAL MISSIONS
About Mammoth Medical Missions (MMM): Mammoth Medical Missions is a secular, nonprofit, non-governmental volunteer organization based in Mammoth Lakes, California, which provides medical, surgical, dental, and general health-care services to underserved rural and mountain communities worldwide, as well as emergency medical response and field triage in case of large-scale disaster and/or mass casualty.
For more about Mammoth Medical Missions, visit www.mammothmedicalmissions.org .
Mission updates can be found on its Facebook page. Go to Facebook and Mammoth Medical Missions, Inc. or https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mammoth-Medical-Missions-Inc/292110607512174