One of the UJA-NNJ “Heroes of Haiti,” Dr. Joshua Hyman is not new to volunteering his medical services for earthquake victims. As associate director of the Children for China Pediatrics Foundation, he said, he travels to China every year to “provide surgical services to Chinese orphans.” There he treats congenital and post-traumatic deformities in children, but last year he “also took care of about half dozen children who were injured in the [2009 China] earthquake.”
When he learned of the devastation due to the earthquake in Haiti, Hyman quickly arranged his trip, arriving on Jan. 18 for 10 marathon days of surgery and medical treatment of young quake victims. As a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, his skills were particularly essential as he and other team members addressed the needs of children whose limbs were crushed in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Hyman described how he joined up with other medical professionals of the Florida based Project Medishare facility at the Port-au-Prince airfield, where “four big wedding tents” held operating and other treatment facilities for the victims. During his stay he found the Israeli field hospital personnel very helpful. In order to maximize the use of medical expertise of the Medishare and Israeli physicians, “there was a fair amount of trading of patients” with the Israelis, said Hyman. “I brought patients to the Israeli facility, and brought back patients that they couldn’t manage.”
Hyman encountered challenging cases. “One patient, a 10-year-old girl, had a terrible crush injury to her arm,” said Hyman. “I spent a great deal of time trying to save the arm, and brought her to the Israelis to try to get a plastic surgeon, but they couldn’t help her.” He did manage to get the youngster transferred to a Florida hospital where she could get the needed services. Each day he spent most of his time operating on victims, but Hyman also concerned himself with finding facilities for follow-up treatment of his patients. Hyman succeeded in transferring numerous patients to the U.S.N. Comfort as well as to Florida hospitals for continued treatment.
Hyman found inspiration in “the spirit of the Haitian people who suffered tremendously – physically, spiritually – who lost their homes and businesses, yet in camps and in the hospitals they wanted to help each other.” Many Haitians volunteered as translators, or helped with equipment and patient transfers, said Hyman.
Hyman is associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and director of Pediatric Orthopaedic Fellowship at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian. He has lived most of his life in Englewood, where he and his wife are raising their 13-year-old twins, who will celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs in Israel shortly, and two younger daughters who were adopted from China.
Regarding his Haiti experience, Hyman said, “My wife was completely supportive and my kids just wanted to make sure that I would be safe. They were pleased that their father was involved in trying to help.”
“I’m fortunate that I have the training to do this work,” said Hyman, who plans to return to Haiti to organize rehabilitative care and to help amputees acquire the prostheses they so desperately need. He is also planning a trip to China in the fall to continue his medical volunteer work there.
“The need for additional support in Haiti is tremendous and it will be ongoing,” concluded Hyman. “A tragedy as great as this, very, very close to home, will have to stay in the minds of people in the U.S.”