'We lived in the hospital, literally,' says medical team back from Kuwait

May 29, 1991|By Traci A. Johnson

The 40-member team of Maryland physicians who went to Kuwait last week proved to the war-ravaged country that America can fight diseases and injuries as well as it fought the Iraqis.

"We were able to show the Kuwaitis that Americans go beyond liberating with bombs and missiles," said Dr. James A. D'Orta, chairman of the task force and a specialist in emergency medicine at Franklin Square Hospital. "They know we, as civilians, came of our own free will."

The humanitarian mission consisted of emergency medicine and trauma specialists, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, plastic and orthopedic surgeons, social workers and nurses. They worked with Kuwaiti officials to re-establish medical facilities, and treated Kuwaiti patients for such problems as severe birth defects, asthma, heart conditions and war injuries.

"We lived in the hospital, literally," said Nelson J. Sabatini, Maryland's health secretary. "We did not stay in a hotel. We got started as soon as we arrived, and one doctor performed an emergency operation just as we left."

Victims came in all ages, and several doctors mentioned in particular the 11-year-old boy who was one of their patients. The boy, whose arm and leg were blown off when he mistook a bomb for a ball on playground, did not survive.

Members of the team were told of Kuwaiti citizens being killed when they no longer responded to the pain of torture applied by their Iraqi tormentors.

"We saw things that turned our stomachs," said Dr. D'Orta.

Marge Epperson-Sebour, director of psychosocial services at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, said 13 premature babies were taken from incubators and abused by Iraqi soldiers who rummaged through the hospital.

"[The Iraqis] played with them -- these poor things already fighting to survive. The nurses managed to save seven, five of which have survived," she said.

But neither the doctors nor the Kuwaiti people have lost hope, D'Orta said. Some of the patients treated by the Maryland doctors will travel here for corrective surgery and other treatments.

Of primary interest to the the task force is a baby born with an exposed bladder, a man with a major cardiac problem, and a 22-month-old born with an opening from the mouth to the eye which will require extensive reconstruction.

The team may also help establish a rape crisis program to help some of the hundreds of women said to have been sexually attacked by Iraqi soldiers.

Ms. Epperson-Sebour and other members of the team have been asked to go back to Kuwait and help organize the program.

"It will take a lot of planning to do something like this in Kuwait. We cannot do what we normally do here," Ms. Epperson-Sebour said. "The society is family-oriented and they are used to taking care of their own. Outside institutions do not seem proper to them."

The medical team's trip, organized at the request of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, has helped Maryland establish strong ties to Kuwait.

The team brought back gifts for Mr. Schaefer from the Kuwaitis -- the tattered Kuwaiti flag that was raised over the hospital when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait City and a small plaque.

"In my mind, this trip has done more to establish a good relationship with Kuwait or any Arab countries than anything else," said Governor Schaefer, who said he hoped the medical team would stay "in reach" in the event of future catastrophies in which Maryland could extend a helping hand.

"We made an incredible journey and experienced events none of us will ever forget," said Mr. Sabatini. "We went there and met a people filled with love and spirit."

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