Saving Starfish—Managing Wounds After the Haitian Earthquake

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Philip Organ, DPM
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First responders to calamitous events face problems that with hindsight could be avoided. Communities, organizations, and hospitals usually have a “preparedness program.” When asked by the media what I expected as a first-responder to the Haitian earthquake, I missed the mark in many ways. I’ve learned that for some tragedies, no amount of preparation is sufficient. Each day, wound care physicians see a variety of traumatic and infected wounds. In Haiti, the sheer magnitude of what we saw and the logistical problems of getting supplies to the “field” were something I could not appreciate until post-field experience and reflection.

Monna Lesperance reminded me of this fable:

  A boy and his father are strolling on a beach shortly after a devastating storm. The beach is littered with dead and dying starfish. The boy keeps flipping random ones back into the ocean as they walk. The father says, “Son, why are you wasting your time throwing the starfish into the ocean? There are so many of them, what difference will a few make?” As the son, in thought, throws another, he says to his father, “It will make a difference to that one.”


1. The World Bank. Available at: Accessed: July 11, 2010.

2. US Department of State. Available at: Accessed: July 11, 2010.

3. Haiti raises earthquake toll to 230,000. Available at: Accessed: July 11, 2010.

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