Three weeks after our Scripps Health Medical Response Team headed to Nepal to help earthquake victims, we welcomed home the four nurses and mission leader with cheers, posters and hugs.
More than 100 of their colleagues, family members and friends were at San Diego International Airport on May 23 to give them the hero’s welcome they deserved. The celebration started with our traditional group hug.
I can’t say too many times how proud I am of this team — Tim Collins (corporate vice president, operations and research), Debra McQuillen, RN (assistant vice president, cardiovascular services), Jan Zachry, RN (vice president and chief nursing executive), Patty Skoglund, RN (senior director of disaster/emergency) and Steve Miller, RN (senior director, clinical services).
While on the ground in Nepal, they cared for nearly 2,200 patients and set up temporary clinics in 17 remote, mountainous villages, many of which were accessible only by helicopter.
They slept in tents on thin mats, they ate military MREs, and they endured countless tremors, including the 7.3 magnitude May 12 quake that sent villagers screaming and running into the streets.
Most importantly, they provided care and comfort to thousands of people. Many of the stories I’ve heard from the team members stand out, but I’ll recount a couple that demonstrate the broad range of their work.
In the village of Laprak, Tim and the medical group he was leading learned about a man whose spine had been critically injured more than a week earlier when his house fell around him during the original earthquake. With no access to medical care, his neighbors strapped the man to a rock to keep him steady while they hoped for help to arrive.
Tim and a volunteer physician from another health system ran for 35 minutes downhill through rugged terrain to reach man. Once they found him, they took turns carrying him on their backs to the village. About halfway up, they found a stretcher and were able to strap the man in using string and a burlap blanket. When they reached Laprak, they loaded the man into a helicopter which flew him to a hospital in the nearest city.
You can see photos taken during this rescue at this website operated by our mission partner International Medical Corps.
In another isolated and badly damaged village, Jan and Debra encountered a 36-year-old man who had double heart valve replacement surgery in Kathmandu prior to the April 25 earthquake. When they met the man, he was running out of life-sustaining medicine only available in the capital a few days hike away.
The man faced a terrible choice: He could stay with his family and continue to rebuild their home, go without his medicine and risk a potentially fatal medical emergency; or he could head out on the trail to Kathmandu without knowing whether his path might be blocked by landslides.
Fortunately, the medical team offered another option. They were able to arrange the delivery of the man’s medication, which was flown to the village by helicopter the next day from Kathmandu.
As you can see, the team members did far more than set broken bones and clean wounds. They coordinated the delivery of aid to communities that hadn’t previously received outside assistance. They treated chronic illnesses and post-traumatic symptoms such as anxiety and sleeplessness. And they offered compassion, understanding and a ray of hope to people who were just starting to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
Our collective experience in this mission, together with our previous medical missions to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, reinforces the leadership role that Scripps plays in emergency medical response
All five Scripps employees who went to Nepal would be quick to tell you that they feel fortunate to have been chosen for this mission and for the once-in-a-lifetime experiences they had over the past three weeks. And I can tell you, whether we were the ones on the front lines, were helping to coordinate the mission from here in San Diego, or were simply another Scripps employee pulling for our co-workers in Nepal, we felt connected. We were in this together.
We were all part of the team.