AHD’s Earthquake Relief Effort

Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, May 3

Today began with two mothers who came in from the quake area to give birth to their children.   One of them was a repeat cesarean section that resulted in a beautiful, full weight girl who needed some resuscitation, but already appears to be smiling.  The other mom’s fetus developed distress during labor, so we had to deliver her by Cesarean Section as well.  That boy came out breathing very fast.  It might be due to the Cesarean section itself, as he “transitions” from the inside to the outside world.  It might also be “newborn sepsis”, or infection for those non-medical folks.  So we did some tests and an x-ray on him and our neonatologist started antibiotics.  He already seems improved this evening.

We here are all grateful to one of our longstanding donors, Dan and Eileen Meehan, for the amazing newborn equipment they contributed a while back.  Personally, I’ve been thinking about their generosity over the years all day today.  This equipment gives these kids a fighting chance at a long life.  I think they’ll make it.  If they can handle an earthquake, what can’t they handle?

An elderly gentleman who suffered some extensive scraps all over his body during the quake, was with his family for a week after the quake.  They caringly applied some home remedies on his scraps.  Unfortunately, he had an almost allergic reaction to these remedies and much of his skin burned off.  He came to us quite ill about 4 days ago from one of the refugee camps, where his family ultimately ended up.

Sadly, he passed away today – yet another member of the family gone.  They have nothing.  The family asked if we could help them with a casket. They put him in a wood coffin, laid him in the back of a pickup truck, and drove off with tears in their eyes. The misery and despair of poverty are ugliest around moments of illness and suffering.

We watched them drive off through our own tears…

Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, April 30

An 82 year old gentleman from Pedernales who now lives in the refugee
camp in Santo Domingo came to the hospital yesterday. His house
collapsed and he had fallen amidst the chaos but seemed to be doing
okay. Then yesterday morning his family said he “was not acting
right.” He had a fever and a cough and looked ill. He also had
findings on physical exam that suggested a pneumonia. That was
confirmed with an x-ray.

Additionally, however, our resident picked up that his eyes were
moving in an unusual fashion, suggesting that something in his brain
was not right. A more extensive physical exam revealed other signs
that there was something wrong with his brain. His memory was off,
and his level of consciousness was also a bit diminished.

We ordered a CAT scan of his head, which revealed a subdural
hematoma, or a blood clot, between his brain and his skull. It had
probably been there since the fall during the earthquake, but was not
that noticeable initially.

We have a neurosurgeon on call for us. He came in and drained the
hematoma that same evening. Afterwards, the man was wide awake,
alert, and feeling and looking a lot better. Yes, he still has his
pneumonia, but he looks better from that as well today.

But this all goes back to the resident doing a good physical exam and
following up on the information before him to put this all together.
The man had a life-threatening bleed in his head which is no longer

It’s good to have well-trained physician residents. This is a tribute
to our great Ecuadorian teachers in the program who are also
graduates of our program.

Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, April 29

How people get connected to healthcare services during a natural disaster can be quite circuitous.  Last night, I received a call from a medical student from the University of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ).  He had been on a medical brigade with his university in the town of Pedernales, the epicenter of our 7.8 quake.

He met a young woman who had lost her home in the quake, like so many others.  However, she was pregnant – about 35 weeks along.  The medical student attended to her and she and her unborn baby, thankfully, were hanging in there.  Her blood pressure was up a little bit, but she was not spilling any protein into her urine, so the student felt she did not have preeclampsia – a potentially life-threatening complication.  He gave her his telephone number and said they would be back if she had any problems or for just a routine followup visit.

She realized that there was nothing for her in Pedernales, so she went with her husband and three children to El Carmen – a city closer to Santo Domingo where she had some relatives.  But the government hospital there is structurally unstable and now unsafe.  As fate would have it, a few days later she began to feel contractions.  She called the student, and this is where the interesting pathway begins.

The student calls an administrator from USFQ to ask what he should tell the patient.  The administrator is a friend of mine from our previous relationship with Project CARE in the late 1990s in PVM.  He suggests that she come to Hospital Hesburgh.  He gives the student my cell phone number.  He calls late last night.  I happen to be in Ecuador.  He explains the situation, and we receive this displaced pregnant woman with no place else to turn.

Early this morning she comes to our hospital.  She is not in active labor, but it looks like she has early preeclampsia and will need to have her baby soon, here at HH.

Frequently the coordination of services between institutions in situations such as Ecuador’s quake can be a real challenge.  This time it worked out.



Message from U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, Todd Chapman


Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, April 28

We currently have 14 patients in the hospital wards in Santo Domingo.  They range from a pregnant woman with preeclampsia and an elderly woman with broken ribs and a healing lung contusion from objects falling on her during the quake, to a child with pneumonia and a man with decompensated heart failure.

What do they all have in common? Not just the earthquake.  All of these people are living in displaced persons temporary refugee camps in Santo Domingo.  They have all lost their homes. Many of them have lost family members.  But they all have nowhere to go.

They have all fled to Santo Domingo because this is the “capital of rural Ecuador” as the people from the coast call it.  Out of desperation, they have arrived, hoping for healthcare, shelter, food, water and ultimately employment and a new, permanent place to live.  No, they have no plans to return to their towns further down the coast.  They have lost hope in those communities, and the painful memories are already too great.

Today we met with the US Ambassador (Todd Chapman) who was visiting the epicenter of the quake (Pedernales) yesterday.  He came to the hospital to see our installations.  He invited us to meet with the mayor of Santo Domingo at one of the municipal displaced persons camps (see video above and picture below).

Understanding the significant infrastructure we have at Hesburgh Hospital, including the dormitories, the cafeteria, and the Wifi capability, along with the great medical facilities, the mayor and ambassador asked if Saludesa/AHD would be interested in serving as the hub to coordinate with other international agencies for activities such as acute and chronic health needs, the construction of new housing, potable water, and sewer systems for a group of these displaced families.   Our response was that we would be interested in the health aspects of that project for these people, but we could only help with accommodations for the other agencies.

So the wheels are turning.  Hesburgh Hospital is situated strategically 75 miles from the quake epicenter, and where all the displaced are arriving.  These activities would mark Hesburgh Hospital as the institution that responded to the call for help.


Dr. Carlos Troya and Dr. David Gaus with Ambassador Chapman and the Mayor of Santo Domingo at one of the refuge camps in Santo Domingo.

Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, April 27

Tonight an 85 year old woman with a long history of high blood pressure came to Hesburgh Hospital with chest pain. We thought a long time about a heart attack, but the tests and her symptoms don’t quite fit.  We’ll treat her as such for the rest of the evening and repeat some tests tomorrow in the morning, but it’s looks more like stress.

You might want to know something about her stress.

As if the earthquake was not enough, late last night there was a terrible rain fall on the western slopes of the Andes. Along those slopes, at the bottom, sits the town of Alluriquin, known for their taffy makers on main street.  The heavy rains built up a wall of water that tumbled down a local river.  It gain such size, strength, and might, that by the time it reached Alluriquin, it was literally a 15 foot high tidal wave.  It broke over the banks in town and washed much of the town away.

Our patient, amidst all the suffering of losing friends and family in the earthquake just down the road, now has lost her small granddaughter, her home, and the homes of two other children.

The things that people have to endure in this life can sometimes seem insurmountable…

Account from a visiting student from the Medical College of Wisconsin

During the earthquake, a young mother jumped to cover her daughter and as a result, suffered significant trauma to her spine. She has multiple fractures in her cervical spine and will require significant rehabilitation to recover.  We’re still determining the full extent of her other injuries and what definitive treatment she will need for her cervical spinal injuries.  But she’s just so young and she was only trying to protect her daughter, yet this could affect the rest of her life depending on how she heals.  She was understandably very upset, but fortunately her husband and daughter were by her side and both unharmed.

Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, April 24

The first wave of trauma patients from the earthquake is ending.  However, we are still receiving many patients with health problems unrelated to the quake – childbirths, surgeries, hospitalizations.

The situation on the coast is still grave.  The buildup of cadavers, sadly, is a serious problem.  But the Ecuadorian people are rising to the occasion.  One of our residents sent me a message today saying that it has been very gratifying to be part of the relief effort, but he hasn’t changed pants in five days…



Press on AHD’s Role in the Earthquake

Local Doctor Hopes to Assist with Mental Health in Aftermath of Ecuador Earthquake, WISC TV Madison

Earthquake Tragedy in Ecuador Mobilizes Madisonians to Action, Madison 365

Badgers for Ecuador Helps Victims as Exchange Student Talks About Close Call, Fox 28 South Bend

Madison Plays Outsize Role in Responding to Earthquake in Ecuador, WORT FM Madison

Responding to Disaster–Notre Dame Alumnus at Ground Zero after Deadly Ecuador Earthquake, University of Notre Dame

Ecuador Earthquake Puts Wisconsin Doctor’s Hospitals on Front Lines, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Hesburgh Hospital Fighting for Global Health, University of Notre Dame

UW Health Doctor Plans Trip to Ecuador Earthquake Disaster Zone as Two Hospitals He Founded are Spared, WKOW

Wisconsin Non-Profit Responds to Ecuadorean Earthquake, Wisconsin Public Radio

Update: Hesburgh Hospital in Ecuador Treats Earthquake Victims, WNDU


Message from Executive Director, Dr. David Gaus, April 19

A young Colombian gentleman moved to Ecuador a few years ago to “test his luck,” trying to get away from the death and violence and civil war in Colombia for so many years.  He chose Portoviejo because of some distant relatives. He married Yuri, an Ecuadorian woman, and together, they had a child.  Life was pretty good.

The earthquake changed that.  He was in an a building with his family that collapsed when the quake shook their world on Saturday night.  He was rescued and had significant injuries.  Hesburgh Hospital was his destination, but after 24 hours, he insisted on leaving to look for his family.  Yet unstable medically, that pursuit was in vain.  His condition worsened and he was forced to return.  His physical recovery commenced, but he was tormented by the anguish of not knowing where his family was.  Three days passed of Facebooking and tweeting – to no avail.  Then, it magically happened.  He received word that his wife and child were alive and in the soccer stadium in Portoviejo.  They were reunited at Hesburgh Hospital and the tears flowed – not just theirs, rather everybody involved.

And there are many stories like this.  Some with very sad endings, some with endings like this family.

In the end, Hesburgh Hospital was their refuge and their meeting place.

We are doing not just important work, but work that has a very real, human face.

Thank you for all your support.




Ambulances are bringing hundreds of patients to AHD’s two hospitals.


Authorities are working to repair the roads quickly in order to be able to transport victims to hospitals.


Staff has been working around the clock in AHD’s two hospitals and have been mobilized to Manabi and El Carmen where the earthquake hit the hardest.


The wreckage throughout the country is difficult to comprehend.

Diego and Carlos

Dr. Diego Herrera and Dr. Carlos Troya (pictured here), along with Dr. Alicia Guevara and Dr. Miguel Obregon, have organized AHD’ relief effort at the two hospitals.

Please donate to support AHD’s two hospitals as they are major players in the country’s relief effort.


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Posted by laura in Global Health Topics | 2 Comments  

2 Responses to “AHD’s Earthquake Relief Effort”

  1. Deyanira Montano says:

    Are you only taking medicines and monetary donations? Or are you taking all kinds. If we send stuff from the US I would appreciate guidance on how to send, which is the best cost effective way?

  2. My travel buddy, Robert (Pharmacist), and myself (General Dentist) are currently licensed practitioners in Colorado, USA en route to Quito (or wherever necessary) in order to aid in relief efforts in whatever capacity that we are called to act. We currently have invitation letters from Unidos Por Ecuador (Ecuador Listo Y Solidario) as well as from hands.org, but their assessment teams are still working on devising a plan of action. As such, I figured that I would continue contacting other organizations, hospitals, etc in an attempt to maximize relief efforts. Aside from dentistry, I am proficient in administering medication, anesthesia, cleaning wounds, suturing and much, much more… especially under even minimal guidance from an MD (I have a good background in the OR thanks in part to my many rotations during my formal education, as well as I am a quick learner). Please let us know if you need any help with anything, and how we may best serve the cause. Thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to hearing back from you!


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