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EHMC Staff in Haiti - Englewood Hospital Physicians and Nurses Aid in Haiti Relief

Spotlight On: Rafael Latorre, MD

Dr. Rafael Latorre of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center will return to Haiti on March 12, his second visit to the devastated country. His first visit was from January 23 to February 1. His reason for going was simple. “I saw a need, and I knew I had the ability to help.” Haiti is presently living the worst humanitarian crisis in modern history after suffering a 7.3 earthquake in the most densely populated area of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The horrific occurrence left one quarter of a million dead, another quarter of a million seriously injured and handicapped for life, two million without a home, and many more hungry, thirsty and sick.

It was an eye-opening experience for a sophisticated and knowledgeable man. The Colombian-born physician with a busy practice in Englewood, NJ, was amazed to learn so much about a country that could have been so much a part of his world. "It took a terrible thing like this to acquaint me with Haiti," he said.

He was particularly impressed—among other things—by the spiritual values of the Haitian people. “People were happy for the ones who survived,” said Dr. Latorre. “They were singing and giving thanks to God.”

After he arrived in Haiti, he became a member of the team sponsored by the Crisis Response International (CRI), and will return to work with them this week. “I admired their professionalism.” Dr. Latorre spent nine days working in Carrefur, a town next to Port-au-Prince that was very close to the epicenter of the earthquake. He provided often life-saving care, sometimes to people who had never seen a physician before. He saw only grace and gratitude, not looting and rioting as depicted on TV and the Internet.

The staff in Dr. Latorre’s office has assisted him in his efforts, including his partner, Dr. Diana Portilla, who has most willingly covered their patients, Maria Santiago, the nutritionist on his staff, and the entire staff of the busy internists’ practice.  Other Englewood Hospital physicians, including Drs. David N. Feldman, Benjamin Freilich, Steven Katz, Mitchell Spinell and Samuel Suede, have also contributed to Dr. Latorre’s endeavor with donations of cash, drugs or medical supplies. Englewood Hospital has pitched in with donations of drugs and by allowing the doctor to purchase drugs to bring to Haiti at a very reduced rate. Jacqueline Takera at the Medical Center’s pharmacy helped gather a donation of basic medications known to be in short supply, including amoxicillin and doxycycline (oral antibiotics), bacitracin (for cuts), ibuprofen (for pain), betadine solution (antiseptic) and antidiarrheal medication. Area businesses and other medical professionals have also rallied to the cause in ways big and small.

Dr. Latorre left behind his boots and his air mattress behind for others to have, as well as most of the rest of his possessions. “I asked Mama, the local midwife, which family was the poorest, so I could donate my clothes, whatever I didn’t need,” said the doctor. “You don’t take home from Haiti what you can easily replace at Walmart. She said we couldn’t pick just one “poorest family,” but she did pick one. I went to their typically pristine and organized Haitian “home,” which was now a tent, and gave them whatever I didn’t need.”

Dr. Latorre resides in Nyack, NY, where he lives with his wife and two school-age children. He has been an internist on staff at Englewood Hospital for the last 14 years.

Update
March 17, 2010

Since Dr. Latorre returned to Haiti, he has sent updates from the field via email.  On March 12, he reported that things seem to be getting worse as the presence of medical teams, international aid groups and the US Army is declining. He was told that no one is allowed to build yet, pending the development of new building codes and regulations by the Haitian government. 

On March 15, Dr. Latorre sent a crushing series of photos and confirms that indeed, everything is getting worse. The next day, the doctor sent more documentation of the ongoing crisis and shots of the doctors and nurses suturing and dressing wounds, resuscitating patients, and treating diseases ranging from malnutrition to congenital syphilis. He thanks Englewood’s Pharmacy Department and Family Health Center and Accurate Labs for donations and support, and sends an entreaty not to forget Haiti! The following day has the doctor sending more shots of staff and patients, smiling and remaining strong despite the trauma all around them. 

Dr. Latorre’s investment in the people of Haiti is part of a life-long interest in relief work, which he says started with his first mission at age 14. He has also been to the jungles of Colombia and will go to Uganda in November to help set up a new hospital.