|Vol. 22, No. 4||March 1, 2000|
Baylor/VAMC Physician Assisted Quake Survivors
by B.J. ALMOND
Baylor College of Medicine
She provided trauma care to a number of those people directly and helped many more indirectly by training healthcare workers at the scene of the disaster in her homeland.
"Though I had not treated earthquake survivors before, I was able to adapt what I had learned about emergency medicine during residency training at Baylor College of Medicine and Ben Taub General Hospital," says Dr. Bozkurt.
Now an assistant professor of medicine at Baylor and assistant chief of medicine at Houston's Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Bozkurt responded to a plea for medical expertise from the European equivalent of the Red Cross two days after the Aug. 17 quake. A native of Istanbul, she spent five days in Turkey doing "whatever it took" to treat patients injured during the quake at makeshift hospitals set up near the areas hardest hit by the tremors.
A lack of medical supplies and other necessities posed special challenges to Dr. Bozkurt.
"Because there was no electricity, I had to disconnect a police dispatcher's generator for five minutes to take a patient's EKG," says Dr. Bozkurt, a cardiologist. "I had to set priorities, and this was critical to saving a man's life."
She also had to improvise to perform CPR with an ambu bag, a device with a mouthpiece and balloon that is used to re-start breathing. The only ambu bag available was for pediatric patients, so it wasn't large enough to fit over the mouth and nose of a woman Dr. Bozkurt was trying to revive. By placing the bag over the patient's mouth and closing the patient's nostrils by hand, Dr. Bozkurt resuscitated the woman.
Dr. Bozkurt is most proud of helping kids with crush injuries who suffered kidney failure. The healthcare workers had been limiting the kids' fluid intake.
"That's appropriate for chronic renal failure but not for an acute problem," Dr. Bozkurt says. "I showed the medical staff how to put in multiple intravenous lines so that the kids could get adequate fluid intake."
Because many of the medical volunteers who came from all over the world did not speak the Turkish language, Dr. Bozkurt taught some of them how to ask basic questions needed to assess patients' injuries, and she prepared cards with anatomical pictures so patients could point to the parts of their body where they were experiencing pain.
Despite the rescue efforts, more than 17,000 people died in the earthquake. Many of the people were trapped beneath debris, and Dr. Bozkurt is still haunted by the sudden silence of victims whose voices stopped before machinery could free them from the rubble. "We tried digging them out by hand, but it just wasn't physically possible to open a hole in such a mountain of rubble," Dr. Bozkurt says.
Having to tell families that their loved ones would have to be buried in mass grave sites due to lack of space was one of the most difficult aspects of the trip for Dr. Bozkurt. Two of her classmates from medical school at the University of Istanbul and a friend from high school were among the victims.
After returning to the United States, Dr. Bozkurt continued to want to help the survivors. "I would feel uncomfortable not sharing what I have with those people," she says.
Working with the University of Houston's Moores School of Music, Dr. Bozkurt is organizing and helping fund classical music concerts featuring the works of Turkish composers. The first was held Feb. 18. Proceeds will be used to buy food and clothing and create a scholarship for orphans of the Turkish earthquake.
©2006 Texas Medical Center