Five trauma specialists from the R Adams Cowley Trauma Center have returned from China, calling their 10-day trip to help earthquake survivors in Sichuan Province “a great success.”
The group returned to the United States on June 17 after working for 10 days in a Chinese hospital, located about 50 miles from the epicenter of the May 12 quake. West China Hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is a modern, 4,300-bed hospital, considered to be one of China’s top hospitals for trauma care. More than 2,000 critically injured survivors of the earthquake have been cared for in that facility alone.
“It was an opportunity each of us will remember for the rest of our lives,” said Thomas Scalea, M.D., physician-in-chief at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. “If we were asked to go again we wouldn’t hesitate.”
Along with Dr. Scalea, the Shock Trauma contingent included Thomas Grissom, M.D., a specialist in critical care and anesthesiology; Geoffrey Sheinfeld, M.D., a specialist in critical care and nephrology; Karen Karash, R.N., a neurotrauma critical care nurse, and Peter Hu, chief technologist who coordinated telemedicine consultations with colleagues back in Maryland.
Dr. Scalea said they were “instantly welcomed” as part of the team. “It felt just like being home, just like going to work here.” He was also impressed by the way the country, as a whole, responded to the disaster. “The doctors and nurses were so energized to help relieve suffering. To see the people of China come together like that was very heartwarming.”
Dr. Sheinfeld expressed similar thoughts. “We developed relationships professionally and personally with the Chinese that will last a lifetime,” he said. “Once we got into the hospital and started taking care of patients, it was just doing what we do every day.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip for Dr. Sheinfeld was caring for 16-year-old Duan Zhixiu, who was trapped for 10 hours in the rubble of the earthquake and had to have her leg amputated. She also suffered from severe lung and kidney failure and had to be put on dialysis and a ventilator.
“To us, she really represented the human face of this disaster,” he said. In the week that the team was there she improved dramatically; she was able to come off the ventilator, come off dialysis, and start eating.
“On the day that we left the nurse was able to put her in wheelchair and take her outside to see the sun shine and get outside the hospital for the first time in a month,” Dr. Sheinfeld said. “So the experience we had was that patients got better while we were there.”
Neurotrauma critical care nurse Karash said the trip was heartbreaking and heartwarming. “It was tough to see the children with the missing limbs but at the same time we were so well received,” Karash said. “They were extremely grateful for us being there.”
Dr. Thomas Scalea shares his experiences in China with the Baltimore media.
The Shock Trauma team saw many patients with crush injuries and amputations. As expected, they also saw many patients with kidney failure, a common complication after a crush injury.
Dr. Scalea and others described a positive collaborative spirit with their Chinese colleagues, who, they say, welcomed the input and critical care expertise of their American counterparts, including different approaches for pain management and therapy.
“They were good at critical care but they didn’t have the experience with the critical injuries that we have,” said Dr. Scalea. “We had this perspective of bad injuries that we could share. Geoffrey made changes to they way they did dialysis, and Karen was able to inform them of certain techniques such as pain management.”
During their visit, the Shock Trauma team also gave lectures about critical care practices at Shock Trauma. They also saw how traditional Chinese herbs and medicines are used in a modern hospital.
The R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma team is the first U.S. medical team officially invited to assist the Chinese following the earthquake. The invitation came from the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Zhou Wenzhong. The Shock Trauma Center is recognized as one of the world’s leaders in caring for people with brain and spinal cord trauma and crush injuries.
In a letter to John H. Spearman, vice president of the Shock Trauma Center, Zhou Wenzhong thanked Maryland for “sending a medical team specialized in shock trauma treatment to help with saving the lives of the survivors of the deadly earthquake in China,” and expressed his “deepest appreciation for coming to the help of the Chinese people at this difficult moment.”
The Wenchuan Earthquake Relief Headquarters presented the Shock Trauma team with a silk banner reading: “With Sincere Appreciation for Your Humanitarian Assistance.”