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Palo Alto, Stanford doctors, nurses aiding typhoon victims

Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Stanford Hospital roll up their sleeves in the Philippines

The scene is hard to fathom. Nearly a month after Typhoon Haiyan swept over the Philippines, there are still miles of torn and twisted buildings, and thousands of victims with untreated compound fractures, infected wounds and mental trauma.

Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical staff from Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Stanford Hospital and Clinics are making their way to Palo Alto's Philippine sister city, Palo, on Leyte Island, and other areas in an ongoing campaign to provide medical aid amid the devastation.

More than 5,000 people were killed by the Category 5 typhoon.

The news from Stanford medical staff on the scene is grim and heartbreaking:

"The area of destruction has no epicenter and is not isolated to Tacloban and the seaside communities," Kim Woolley, a Stanford Emergency Medicine Program mental health specialist, wrote in a blog on Dec. 4. "The best way for me to describe it: It is as if the entire southern half of the state of Iowa, from west to east, was destroyed by a 60-mile-wide tornado with 200 mph winds. Every tree is snapped or uprooted, every roof is missing.

"There are many medical needs, with our team outside of Tacloban seeing 250-plus patients a day. It is not so much acute medical problems or trauma, but conditions that quickly turn acute or life threatening after three weeks without treatment. A blood pressure of 240/120 for a few weeks needs treatment just as a leg may need to be amputated in the first 48 hours," Woolley wrote.

The mental health needs are starting to become critical: trouble with sleeping, high anxiety, worry and crying.

The typhoon lasted seven hours, during which time "mothers huddled over their children ready to sacrifice their own life as long as their babies could crawl out of the rubble," she wrote.

"Seven hours is incomparable to other natural disasters where a minute feels like forever," Woolley added.

Stanford's 10-member team arrived Nov. 22 and will return on Sunday, Dec. 8. One week later, a group of doctors, nurses and support staff from Palo Alto Medical Foundation will take off for Palo and Tacloban, the island's capital city. Both areas were among the hardest hit by the typhoon and storm surge.

Dr. Enoch Choi of Palo Alto Medical Foundation is heading up the 14-member team. The group is going through Jordan International Aid, a nonprofit organization that provides disaster relief around the world. Choi is the organization's medical director.

Palo Alto Medical Foundation is not funding the trip but is allowing medical staff leave during a high-demand time of year, said Choi, a partner in the family practice department.

When the volunteers leave for the Philippines, they will bring thousands of pounds of medical supplies. Palo Altans can help the relief effort this Sunday, Dec. 8, by packing the supplies, Choi said. The packing party will take place from noon to 5 p.m. at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, 795 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, third-floor conference room, next to the cafeteria. A second packing party takes place on Dec. 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Gunn High School gymnasium, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto.

The medical need is urgent, Choi said, referring to reports he's heard.

"Many people are getting sick — even from well water," he said.

There are outbreaks of diarrhea and pneumonia, and injuries including exposed, broken bones. Many people are injured while trying to rebuild their homes and have infected wounds, a common occurrence after a disaster, he said.

The team will stay until Dec. 22, but Choi anticipates it will only be the first of many teams. His group is collaborating with Neighbors Abroad, the volunteer organization for Palo Alto's sister cities. A children's library in Palo, built by Neighbors Abroad, is one of the few buildings still standing, and the team will render aid there. The library is where many people took shelter, he said.

The Palo Alto City Council approved a $10,000 donation for aid to Palo on Nov. 12.

Ruth Carleton, Neighbors Abroad co-vice president for Palo, said the city's contribution was sent to a medical fraternity — Phi Kappa Mu — and to Feed the Hungry, both based in Palo. Neighbors Abroad has raised about $18,000 in additional funds, with a large contribution by the Teen Advisory Board from local high schools. Their "Glow for the Philippines" event on Nov. 26 at King Plaza collected $1,000 in two hours, she said.

Donations can be made by visiting the following websites:

Jordan International Aid

Stanford Emergency Medicine Program for Emergency Response (SEMPER)

Neighbors Abroad (with a note: Palo Relief Fund)

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