Surgery under extreme conditions in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake: the importance of regional anesthesia

Prehosp Disaster Med. 2010 Nov-Dec;25(6):487-93. doi: 10.1017/s1049023x00008645.


The 12 January 2010 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti caused >200,000 deaths, thousands of injuries requiring immediate surgical interventions, and 1.5 million internally displaced survivors. The earthquake destroyed or disabled most medical facilities in the city, seriously hampering the ability to deliver immediate life- and limb-saving surgical care. A Project Medishare/University of Miami Miller School of Medicine trauma team deployed to Haiti from Miami within 24 hours of the earthquake. The team began work at a pre-existing tent facility in the United Nations (UN) compound based at the airport, where they encountered 225 critically injured patients. However, non-sterile conditions, no means to administer oxygen, the lack of surgical equipment and supplies, and no anesthetics precluded the immediate delivery of general anesthesia. Despite these limitations, resuscitative care was administered, and during the first 72 hours following the event, some amputations were performed with local anesthesia. Because of these austere conditions, an anesthesiologist, experienced and equipped to administer regional block anesthesia, was dispatched three days later to perform anesthesia for limb amputations, debridements, and wound care using single shot block anesthesia until a better equipped tent facility was established. After four weeks, the relief effort evolved into a 250-bed, multi-specialty trauma/intensive care center staffed with >200 medical, nursing, and administrative staff. Within that timeframe, the facility and its staff completed 1,000 surgeries, including spine and pediatric neurological procedures, without major complications. This experience suggests that when local emergency medical resources are completely destroyed or seriously disabled, a surgical team staffed and equipped to provide regional nerve block anesthesia and acute pain management can be dispatched rapidly to serve as a bridge to more advanced field surgical and intensive care, which takes longer to deploy and set up.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Conduction*
  • Disasters*
  • Earthquakes*
  • Emergency Medical Services* / organization & administration
  • Haiti
  • Humans
  • Wounds and Injuries / surgery*