When it comes to aid and relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters, GE takes a multi-dimensional approach to ensure our impact is meaningful and long-term. Along with product donations of critical water, energy and healthcare products, GE employees use their business and technical expertise to contribute on-the-ground support, help set up systems in affected areas and train local teams so the products are in use long after GE employees have left.
In January 2010, Mike Kammermeier, a customer education manager for GE Healthcare’s Women’s Health Ultrasound business, traveled to Haiti to train local physicians in the use of GE medical equipment. Mike’s trip to Haiti coincided with the tragic 7.3 magnitude earthquake — unexpectedly turning otherwise routine training sessions into real, live trauma care experiences. The following is a first-person account of what took place immediately after the earthquake.
Mike Kammermeier of GE Healthcare
“We were about 40 miles outside of Port-au-Prince in a rural village called Cange, and even though it’s only a 40-mile trip, it takes about two hours to travel in between due to the poor-quality dirt roads. The plan for the week was to spend Monday and Tuesday doing training with the Haitian doctors and Wednesday and Thursday training the midwives, and Friday we were scheduled to meet with physicians in Port-au-Prince. Everything was going as planned until the afternoon lectures on Tuesday afternoon. We were in a building about halfway up on a hill (it’s a very mountainous region and lots of buildings are built on the sides of hills) and we had to walk up steps to get to the classrooms.
“We were just wrapping up questions from the day’s lecture when the ground just started shaking. Everyone looked at each other and the feeling of panic began to sink in. We all moved to look outside — then it was silent. It’s shocking because you expect to hear something, but it’s very disorienting and your mind doesn’t think straight. The rumbling lasted for quite some time, and while there wasn’t much structural damage to the building we were in, some of the shacks around us had collapsed and people chose to sleep on the ground outside that night, for fear of aftershocks.
“On Wednesday when we woke up, we cancelled the training with the midwives because some of the Haitian doctors were unable to get in touch with their families and headed into Port-au-Prince in hopes of tracking them down. The most difficult thing initially was loss of communications — we had e-mail via satellite for a bit, but none of the cell towers throughout Haiti were able to provide service and people had to rely on word of mouth. We were at the hospital waiting for the doctors to return, when victims started coming in. There were only five of us on site at the time — myself, an obstetrics doctor, a pediatric burn specialist, a doctor from a partner organization and a medical student. We had to set up a triage unit in a nearby church, moving chairs, bringing in beds, even setting up supplies on a piano. They kept bringing in patients on boards — we cleaned wounds and were covered in plaster from putting on as many casts as we could make, as fast as we could make them.
“Most patients were brought in by truck — somehow they were fortunate enough to get out of Port-au-Prince. Many needed surgery but there was no orthopedic surgeon available. Instead, the pediatric burn specialist was able to tend to the trauma patients with critical needs. We did the best we could to support the victims using all the resources available, and eventually the Haitian physicians returned to the clinic from Port-au-Prince.
“Turns out, the reason I was in Haiti to begin with was to train doctors to use GE equipment, including our hand-carried, portable ultrasound, the Voluson i. Thank goodness we had those ultrasound units because we were able to use the equipment to help some of the trauma patients who were brought into the church. We initially went to Haiti to help, and we did help — but we ended up doing a lot more than we imagined.”