Haitian Earthquake Gives Trauma Surgeon His Time

from the annual meeting of the Surgical Infection Society in Las Vegas 

Dr. Henri R. Ford/photo by Mitchel Zoler

Trauma surgeon Henri R. Ford’s personal history and training fused into a special calling when the earthquake struck Haiti last Jan. 12. Dr. Ford, installed as president of the Surgical Infection Society during the group’s annual meeting earlier this week, used his presidential address to give his colleagues a 45-minute distillation of the experiences and emotions he experienced during the prior 3 months. 

As Dr. Ford noted in detail during his talk, he wasn’t just any surgical volunteer paying a humanitarian call at a disaster site. Henri Ford was born in Port-au-Prince in 1958, and grew up there with his family, living within a few miles of the 2010 epicenter for the next 14 years. After his parents and most of his family moved to New York, Dr. Ford embodied the American success story, getting an Ivy League education, becoming a trauma surgeon with a specialty in managing infectious diseases, and currently serving as chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and professor of surgery at the University of Southern California. He’s also fluent in French and Creole, and has a sister who still lives in Port-au-Prince, who told him  soon after the quake that the situation was “apocalyptic.” 

As Dr. Ford said, he felt “uniquely qualified to respond. 

“I couldn’t help feeling I had spent my first 51 years preparing for such as time as this,” he said in his talk. 

He repeated that phrase, “for such a time as this,” as the theme of his presidential address while he described the devastation and privation he saw, the broken bodies he treated, and the lessons he drew from his experiences. A deeply religious man, he explained that he took the words from Esther 4:14

Dr. Ford first reached Haiti on Jan. 16 and spent 2 weeks working there, and in the subsequent 2.5 months he’s been back for two more 1-week visits, with more return trips planned. A major focus now is working with a coalition of Haitian and U.S. groups to open a National Trauma , Critical Care, and Rehabilitation Hospital in Haiti. 

—Mitchel Zoler (on Twitter @mitchelzoler) 

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Filed under Emergency Medicine, IMNG, Infectious Diseases, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Surgery

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