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15 young Haiti earthquake survivors settle into Tampa Bay area hospitals

TAMPA — They were all survivors, the 15 Haitian patients who arrived in the Tampa Bay area on Tuesday evening with infected burns, spinal cord injuries, fractured bones and other injuries.

Ranging in age from 4 to 24 years, many had survived days without medical attention before getting treatment at a U.S. military operation there. After it became inundated, they were transferred to Tampa.

"They are amazing. These are very badly injured patients and they have survived two weeks, so these are people who are very strong," said Dr. Cathy Carrubba, Hillsborough County's medical mass casualty director. She said many patients were smiling upon arrival.

"This is a group of people that was very grateful for some civilization at the other end of their journey," said Carrubba, an emergency physician at Tampa General Hospital.

While their injuries do not appear to be life-threatening, she said, many have extensive medical needs. Some should recover fully, while others will require long-term care.

Tampa International Airport got a second flight of 22 critically injured Haitian evacuees Wednesday night. Officials prepared patients to go to local hospitals, just as they did Tuesday night. Ten patients were children, said Kelly Figley, a spokeswoman for the airport.

Florida hospitals have taken a total of 436 people, according to the Florida Department of Health. The majority — 361 — were treated in South Florida.

Jackson Health System spokesman Robert Alonso told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the health services region covering Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties "has reached surge capacity and is no longer accepting medical patients from Haiti."

Tampa General, which has a specialized burn center, treated nine. Four were sent to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and University Community Hospital in Hillsborough County each got one.

Two injured U.S. service members on the flight went to the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa.

The Haitian evacuees at Tampa General have settled into patient rooms, many in intensive care. The young children came with adult caretakers; it was not clear if any are orphans.

Throughout the night, they shared their experiences in French and Creole with the Rev. Celillon Alteme, a native of Haiti who works in pastoral care at Tampa General.

A teenager, who was found buried in rubble, said he was afraid to be inside the hospital building because anything can happen to it.

A man who had stopped for gas when the earthquake struck described the agonizing screams of his wife and others when no one came to treat their burned skin.

A young boy told his translator simply that he was hungry.

"They wonder after the treatment where they are going. That's the question they are asking," Alteme said. "I told them I don't know yet."

Letitia Stein can be reached at or (813) 226-3322. For more health news, visit

15 young Haiti earthquake survivors settle into Tampa Bay area hospitals 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 11:56pm]
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