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Spring 2014
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Before the Dust Settled
Doctors from Providence lend a hand in Port-au-Prince.
He was 2 years old, with an injury that— at a different time, in less desperate circumstances—might have just slowed him down for a little while. But for this child, like so many others, life was changed forever by the events of January 12.

By the time Kervins Noel reached Christopher Born’s operating table, he had spent hours under the rubble of his home, along with his mother, who had suffered broken bones in her legs. He had been with her as she made her way through the ravaged streets of Port-au- Prince on a futile search for medical assistance. And then he had been taken with her to an encampment outside the city. There he had been placed on a helicopter— without his mother, whose injuries were less severe—back to Port-au- Prince, where Born and other members of an International Medical Surgical Team (IMSuRT) deployed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had set up a mobile surgical unit.

Born didn’t know any of that, at the time. He didn’t know the child’s name. All he knew was what he saw.

“He had a compound fracture festering just below the knee,” says Born, professor of orthopaedics at Alpert Medical School and chief of orthopedic trauma at Rhode Island Hospital. “I ended up amputating just above the knee.”

Clinically, the child’s plight was not so different from those of the scores of other patients Born had seen during his two weeks of 12-hour OR shifts in Haiti. “We were seeing injuries four, five, six, seven days out—open injuries that were already infected, with skin and muscle crushed, and left unattended for several days,” he explains. “And with so many people, and resources so limited, we only had time for one operation. It had to be the definitive operation.”

The definitive operation, in many cases, was amputation—the only way to stop the deadly infections already rampaging in old wounds.

Back in the States, Born couldn’t stop wondering what had happened to Kervins. He contacted an IMSuRT colleague still in Haiti, who sent him a link to a Wall Street Journal article detailing the rest of the story—including the child’s eventual reunion with his mother, who had finally found him after weeks of searching and navigating the bureaucracy of proving her identity without the documentation that lay in the ruins of her former home.

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