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Buffalo residents, surgeons provide relief during weeklong visit to Haiti hospital

The baby girl was delivered blue and wrapped in her umbilical cord.

Transporting the mother to the closest hospital in Port Au Prince would have taken at least four hours. She had been in labor for at least 12.

An orthopedic surgeon, Robert Smolinski, and anesthesiologist Jack Huebschmann were not accustomed to delivering babies. But with no other doctors around, the Buffalo physicians stepped up to the challenge and helped deliver the child in Haiti’s Immaculate Conception Hospital.

After about 20 minutes of CPR, the child’s heart began beating. She survived.

Smolinski and Huebschmann were part of a team of plastic and orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists and 20 students that returned on June 2 from a weeklong trip to Les Cayes, Haiti. There, they performed 63 operations, ranging from reconstructive surgeries and orthopedic procedures to the life-saving emergency delivery, a first in the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation’s history. The foundation visits economically struggling nations to perform the surgeries.

A general surgeon was not staffed at the Les Cayes hospital and had Hope for Tomorrow not been there, Jeffrey Meilman, a plastic surgeon and the foundation’s chairman, is convinced the fates of both mother and child would have turned out much differently.

“The mother and the baby probably wouldn’t be here,” he said.

The trip, the 22nd in the organization’s history, was Hope for Tomorrow’s second stop in Haiti in four years. Nearly 3,000 operations have been donated worldwide through the group’s trips to locations that include South Africa, Vietnam and Eastern Europe.

Meilman likened the hospital conditions in Haiti, which are equipped with minimal and outdated equipment, to 1920 and 1930 conditions in the U.S.

For Smolinski, the cinder block rooms and glassless windows he encountered in Haiti were a step below any conditions he encountered during other mission trips on which he’d been.

Stray chickens roam the hospital’s open, outdoor areas, and patients lie on beds located in waiting wards, he added.

As a health care debate ensnares the U.S., the trip provided a reminder to Smolinski that care in the U.S. is “deluxe” compared with many regions in the world.

Not everyone can be saved, but the trips provide an opportunity for the surgeons to chip away at some of the suffering.

“You can’t save the world, but maybe you can help a small part of it for a short period of time,” Smolinski said.