The Maryland International Health Task Force headed for war-ravaged Kuwait yesterday on a weeklong mission to perform chores ranging from mending broken limbs and performing delicate surgery to advising officials on ways to rebuild hospitals.
The task force -- including 40 high-level health care professionals, with specialists in emergency medicine, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, and plastic and orthopedic surgeons -- left Franklin Square Hospital about 1 p.m. amid festive bon voyage wishes from relatives, co-workers and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
The doctors will work out of a pediatric hospital in Kuwait City, dispensing medicines and performing surgery.
"We'll all be interns again," said Dr. James A. D'Orta, assistant director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Franklin Square and organizer of the volunteer task force. "We'll basically be doing whatever kind of work they need us to do."
The trip was organized at the request of Governor Schaefer, who offered medical assistance to Kuwaiti officials at a meeting in Washington in February. Along with the medical personnel -- all of whom volunteered their time and services -- the state sent 11,000 pounds of medical supplies.
Maryland Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini accompanied the team. He said the mission is part of Governor Schaefer's commitment to helping rebuild Kuwait, which was ravaged by Iraqi invasion forces.
A few weeks ago, Governor Schaefer also negotiated an agreement with Kuwaiti officials giving Maryland companies preferential treatment in supplying goods and services to the rebuilding effort.
Kuwaiti officials also agreed to ask that all U.S. shipments to Kuwait be routed through the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport when economically feasible.
No other state has such an agreement with Kuwait.
Dr. D'Orta said that although the task force is only scheduled to spend a week in Kuwait, the doctors would set up a referral system for patients who want to travel to Maryland and continue treatment.
The team took a bus to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where the doctors were to board a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, about 6:30 p.m. The team then was scheduled to fly into Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, before reaching Kuwait City.
Dr. D'Orta, who was one of the first U.S. physicians in Armenia four years ago after a series of disastrous earthquakes, says he is psychologically prepared for the horrors of war that await him.
"It may be overwhelming," he said. "But as physicians, we'll be concentrating on the good we can do."