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Got a plane? These doctors need a ride to Haiti

Wanted: Eight-passenger plane with pilot (peanuts optional) to fly round-trip between Tampa and Port-au-Prince on Feb. 2 at no charge.

Five Florida physicians will be looking for a ride home.

A Tampa nonprofit that has been sending medical personnel to Haiti is shipping out its second team this evening and will return with its first batch of surgeons. Walkabout Air, the Tampa company, has donated the first couple of flights. But there is a good chance the company's planes won't be available for use by the group in February due to other commitments. That has the nonprofit's coordinator, Hillary Frank Aubin, scrambling.

"We don't have a shortage of physicians and surgeons willing to go down there," she said. "The plane is the immediate need."

The effort is being organized by Help Brings Hope for Haiti Inc., a group that has been working on the island nation since 2003. It is sending surgeons to a hospital in Miragoane, a town 60 miles west of Haiti's capital. Although the area was hard hit by the earthquake, the hospital, Sainte-Therese, was largely unscathed.

The first group, which arrived in Haiti on Jan. 23, included Tampa doctors Timothy Bradley, Claude Sagi and Kathleen Kilbride, and nurses Eunice Laborde and Joyce Sierra. Hank Hutchinson, head of orthopedic trauma at Tallahassee Memorial, also accompanied the group.

Headed to Haiti in the second batch are Tampa doctors Pat Horan, Scott Gargasz, Michael O'Laughlin and Joel Laborde, plus Tampa nurse Marie Eugene and Dr. Stephen Kimmell from Pensacola.

Aubin said access to a private jet has saved the physicians from using slower or more unreliable transportation. It also gives the physicians access to critical anesthesia supplies only available at the Port-au-Prince airport. Local physicians have also filled the private plane's cargo area with orthopedic equipment, including lightweight frames that allow them to immobilize patients' limbs and, in many cases, avoid amputation.

"We're not saying we need a plane long term," Aubin said. "When commercial flights open up, we'll use them."

Kris Hundley can be reached at khundley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2996.

Got a plane? These doctors need a ride to Haiti 01/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:37pm]
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