Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2010
Russell P. Seneca, M.D., saw crumbled highways, flattened buildings and countless injured people during his recent medical relief trip to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Seneca, associate dean for medical education at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine Inova Campus and chief of surgery at Inova Fairfax Hospital, spent a week in Haiti as part of a 12-person medical team to offer emergency triage care to the injured after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the country on Jan. 12.
“Trying to function there, whether as a physician, or a caregiver or even passing out food and water, is difficult,” Seneca said. “Hospitals and roads are damaged, supplies are limited and the system is overloaded. But we accomplished much there.”
Seneca first worked out of a severely damaged hospital on the southern coast of Haiti in Jacmel, the country’s fourth largest city. Team members then traveled to Port-au-Prince and later set up a clinic in nearby Nazon. Fractures were the most common injury they treated.
“Many people were injured by collapsing concrete walls and falling ceilings,” Seneca said.
Seneca has traveled to Haiti five or six times since 1988 as part of a partnership with a doctor in the town of Pignon.
“It’s always a rewarding experience to go there. They are an unbelievably resilient people. They suffer in silence,” Seneca said. “I can tell you there are very grateful for all that is being done for them after the earthquake.”
The medical team worked with the Community Coalition for Haiti, a Virginia-based volunteer organization.
The VCU community has been quick to respond after the powerful earthquake left tens of thousands of people dead and caused catastrophic damage. Students started organizing and participating in Haiti relief fundraising efforts after they returned to campus for the start of the spring semester.
The VCU Health System collected financial donations for eight days at a special Haiti relief table in the first floor lobby of the Main Hospital building and set up Haiti relief donation cans at cashier stations across the VCU Health System. The first three days of the effort raised more than $7,300, which will be turned over to the American Red Cross.
Also, the VCU Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign, the CVC, has established a system for state employees to contribute to ongoing earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. VCU students, staff and faculty can have the greatest immediate impact by donating money to the American Red Cross or another reputable relief organization, according to Cathy Howard, Ph.D., vice provost for community engagement.
Dan Ream, VCU Libraries director of outreach and distance education, has created a Haiti blog to serve as a resource for VCU and the community. It includes information about the country’s history, heritage and political structure; the earthquake; and recovery efforts and can be found at