Notes from Nepal: Updates from the Scripps Medical Response Team

A report from the Nepal earthquake zone

Jan Zachry, RN, vice president and chief nursing executive of Scripps Memorial Encinitas, with Nepalese children.

Jan Zachry, RN, vice president and chief nursing executive of Scripps Memorial Encinitas, with Nepalese children.

A report from the Nepal earthquake zone

For the third time in a decade, the Scripps Medical Response Team has deployed to help victims of a massive disaster.

Our five team members — four nurses and a mission team leader — have been on the ground in Nepal since Sunday, May 3, as part of the International Medical Corps’ response to the massive earthquake that killed more than 7,500, injured thousands more, and devastated large portions of the mountainous country.

We have a command and logistics team here at home that monitors communications 24/7 for any issue and is in contact with each team at least twice a day. Though Internet connections and phone services in Nepal are sporadic and unreliable, I have been able to receive daily email and satellite phone updates from the team while serving as the group’s home-based commander.

Most importantly, all of our team members — Tim Collins (corporate vice president, operations and research), Deb McQuillen, RN (assistant vice president, sci/cardiovascular Services), Patty Skoglund, RN (senior director of disaster/emergency), Jan Zachry, RN (vice president and chief nursing executive) and Steve Miller (senior director, clinical services) — are safe, in good spirits and working hard.

Delivering medical aid at 8,000 feet

After teaming up with a small group of physicians from Harvard, the combined group broke into two mobile medical teams and headed for remote mountainous regions outside of Kathmandu.

One team was flown by helicopter to a hard-to-reach terraced village along the fault line at an elevation of 8,000 feet, where they are spending two days providing medical care and camping outside.

Deb said that team had already seen 102 patients with a range of medical issues, but only a few had injuries directly related to the quake.

Still, she said the disaster’s destruction could be seen everywhere, with each building in the village sustaining some type of structural damage. When some elderly patients on the lower levels of the village were unable to make their way up to the makeshift medical clinic at the top, one of the team’s orthopedic surgeons and a Nepalese member trudged downhill to care for them.

The second team was helicoptered to another remote mountain village where they saw more than 137 adults and children who needed care for fractures, chronic illnesses and gastritis.

After seeing patients, those team members were invited by villagers to join them in the local temple to take part in a service marking the birthday of Buddha, which is celebrated on May 4 in Nepal.

Patty described the scene this way: “We were invited to the temple to share in the celebration for a short time. It’s an experience of a lifetime. We are tired, but so appreciative of the experience. And the people are wonderful.”

I couldn't be more proud of the team

Their work extends our legacy of helping people in their greatest time of need, which stretches from our founding in 1924, to our previous medical responses to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

The knowledge they will bring back to San Diego in three weeks will spread through our organization and improve our ability to respond to future earthquakes, wildfires and other disasters when they hit closer to home.