Haiti Earthquake Hits Home For CHLA Surgeon Leading Health Care Recovery Efforts
For local surgeon, Dr. Henri Ford, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti last January hit close to home—literally. The native Haitian grew up just miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.
Four days after the disaster, Ford arrived in Port-au-Prince as a member of the medical relief team deployed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He immediately operated on a 6-year-old boy with a crushed abdomen, then worked with his team to set up an emergency field hospital next to a soccer field, just one mile from his childhood home.
After securing medical equipment, recruiting staff and working to create a much-needed trauma system, he grabbed a megaphone and marched through town letting people know help was available.
More than 230,000 Haitians died in the disaster, due in large part to the country’s poor medical system and no ability to deliver critical care. With 300,000 injured, 1.5 million homeless and the threat of aftershock and disease, creating a health care infrastructure was crucial. As a native and pediatric surgeon with expertise in trauma and surgical infection, Dr. Ford was a natural partner for the effort.
“I really felt that somehow I had spent the first 51 years of my life preparing to intervene for such a time as this,” said the vice president and surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), one of the highest ranked pediatric hospitals in the United States.
Over the past year, Ford has led efforts to create the first real health care infrastructure and trauma system in the country, working closely with Haitian Ministry of Health, Project Medishare and the Interim Commission for Haiti’s Reconstruc-tion co-chaired by Former President Bill Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Bellerive.
As a board member of Project Medishare—a non-government organization established solely for the sake of Haiti—he helped establish the first and only functioning trauma critical care facility in Haiti at Hospital Bernard Mevs in Port-au-Prince.
Ford has also made regular trips back, providing medical aid to thousands, including an emergency neurosurgery alongside CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on a 12-year-old girl aboard the Naval Ship, USS Carl Vinson. He continues to work to improve the quality of surgical education and training at the State University Hospital in Haiti, and recently returned for the one-year anniversary.
In less than 48 hours, he saw patients, including several operations, lectured to medical students at Hospital Bernard Mevs and met with an official delegation of the American College of Surgeons about developing a trauma-critical care hospital in Port-au-Prince.
Dr. Ford admits it’s going to be a long road to recovery: three of the four medical schools were destroyed, along with 80 percent of the hospitals. Rebuilding a health care infrastructure is virtually last on the priority list for distribution of $5.6 billion in foreign aid. But he is determined.
“To the extent that I have a heartbeat and I can still speak, I’m going to continue to be hopefully a force, an instrument, for progressive change here because there is no other choice,” said Dr. Ford. “If we were go back to what existed before hand, people who lost their lives after this earthquake would have died in vain.”
Dr. Ford is the vice chair of the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons and was recently elected to the board of trustees of Princeton University. Dr. Ford serves as vice-dean for medical education, professor and vice chair for clinical affairs in the department of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. He earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School.