Team of doctors helps thousands of victims

by Lothar Ruehl,  2013/11/25

Unimaginable images of the catastrophe were the first impressions Dr. Margrit Wille from Dreisbach saw on November 10th in Tacloban on the Philippian island Leyte. She has witnessed, breathed the smell of decomposing bodies and seen the distress of the people directly, whereas television viewers could watch it from their comfortable armchairs.

The members of the humedica medical team started from Frankfurt on November 8th, only few hours after the outbreak of typhoon “Haiyan”, as the first foreign relief team and arrived in the capital Manila on November 9th.

At 10.30 in the morning, she had been alarmed by humedica. Dr. Wille had immediately asked her colleagues at the hospice Haus Emmaus if she could follow this demand for help. Her second phone call was with her husband Peter, who – like her colleagues - gave his “Yes” to her demand.

Already one hour later, she got the “march order” to the airport. “For such cases, we have always a packed suitcase ready”, reports Dr. Wille, who had been in Liberia with a humedica medical team as recently as in October and from May to June she had helped Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

This voluntary work fascinates the doctor, who had worked as a general practitioner in Münchholzhausen until 2011. Since long, she had been interested in working abroad like Georg Müller, her colleague from Albershausen and humedica voluntary board director. In 1999 he was the initiator of a team of doctors, which has carried out hundreds of disaster operations due to earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, wars and other catastrophes since then. They have also worked in Third World prisons. Thus, this team has saved the lives of thousands of people.

“With the humedica team of doctors I can finally put into action, what urged me to become a doctor: to help people without thinking about budgets and recourse claims.”

At first, the team of six was stranded in the Philippian capital Manila and had to convince the officials that they wanted to help the victims. After that, they were taken to the island Leyte by military plane and could treat the first patients in the destroyed city Tacloban about 46 hours after they had been alarmed.

Together with Dr. Wille, the internist Dr. Anja Fröhlich (Hannover) and Dr. Markus Hohlweck (Bonn) as well as the nurse Matthias Gerloff (Ammerbuch) and the coordinators Margret Müller (Berlin) and Christiane Bähr (Hildesheim) flew into the catastrophe region, which had been seriously touched by the typhon at over 350 kilometers per hour. The team transported 300 kilos of excess luggage, consisting mainly of medicine and medical supplies.

At their arrival in Tacloban, dramatical scenes awaited Margrit Wille and her colleagues. Some patients had already received treatment by local doctors. However, this treatment had been quite insufficient, remembers Dr. Wille, who has come back home, after two weeks in Tacloban. “The people were begging for food. But we didn’t have any with us.” In Manila, her team stocked up on biscuits and water bottles, to be able to get through this disaster operation.

“A man didn’t dare to go back into his house, because there were the dead bodies of 15 family members.” Dr. Wille has heard and seen many of such fatal experiences. The team treated 200 to 300 patients a day. The rapid presence of the doctors had saved the lives of many of them. Other bigger help organizations could be on site only four days later.

Even nearly two weeks after the catastrophe, the doctor still met people with broken limbs who still hadn’t found medical help. The team members were especially shattered when they found a man, ten days after the catastrophe during a tour through the destroyed region. A palm tree had fallen on the man’s back during the typhoon and had paralyzed him from the neck downwards. His vesica, which he couldn’t empty any more, was enormously swollen.

The doctors were driving up to 50 kilometers from Tacloban, to visit and treat the people in their ruins. This was made possible by the fact that the cleanup was progressing and, thus, the streets had become accessible by vehicle again.

As soon as the news spread that there was medical aid on-site, the patients gathered. Again and again, the humedica team also saw dead persons who they couldn’t help any more. The image that had especially moved Dr. Margrit Wille was a mother, lying dead on the ground and who had visibly tried to protect her daughter, who was now dead, too, between her legs.

One day, some children had walked for three hours in order to fetch medicine for a parish member from Dr. Wille. Once they held the medicine in their hands, they were radiant with joy and hurried back to their village for three hours again.

The humedica team has treated fractures, soft tissue injuries and completely dirty wounds, partly infected. „We worked from the morning until the beginning of darkness”, says Wille. As there was no light, work had to cease at the end of each day.

In the evening, they went back into an undamaged house, which a family had put at their disposal. “There we fortified with biscuits and water for the next working day.” The next day, misery catches up again with the medical team. Given the great distress, humedica sent more teams from Germany to the Philippines.

On November 14th the organization could use the ferry flight to of a new Airbus A 321 to Manila and charge it with relief items as well as a third medical team. In Tacloban, after only five days, the helpers could take over the private “Mother of Mercy” hospital in the heart of the city, which was still operational, at least in the ground floor.

About 80 per cent of all buildings in the city have been razed. In the hospital, operations can now be carried out and patients can be admitted. Margrit Wille describes the daily treatments: “Some patients were absent minded. Many of them were shocked by their distress.”

How can she come to terms with her experiences in Tacloban? “The work in our team was very harmonious and after work we talked about what we had lived”, she precises her experiences. “Moreover, the people were really very happy about the fact that we had come from Germany.”

Again and again they asked why we were helping them. “We love you, was our answer.” With the Philippians, they experienced much thankfulness for her work. This helps to stand the strain of the work. Together with Dr. Wille, the first two medical teams, which have been replaced by two other teams, have arrived back from Tacloban.

Dr. Wille is fascinated by the fact that such a small organization like humedica can do so many great things in such a dramatical catastrophe. She hopes that many people will contribute to this humanitarian operation.

humedica is still soliciting for further directed donations for our disaster operations in the Philippines. Thank you very much!

      humedica e. V.
      Reference “Typhoon Philippines”
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

humedica explicitly thanks all sponsors, partners and supporters of the disaster operations in the Philippines. Our special thanks are to Scandinavian Children’s Mission (SCM), BILD hilft e.V. “Ein Herz für Kinder”, stars4kids – Stiftung Profifußballer helfen Kindern (foundation professional soccer players help children), Apotheker helfen e.V. and the donation campaign of Abendzeitung München “Münchener helfen”.

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