Local medical team to help tsunami victims
Published: Sunday, January 9, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 9, 2005 at 12:46 a.m.
Dr. Kevin Ferguson, like so many others, has watched with horror as television stations broadcast images of devastation and death in the wake of the tsunami that struck South Asia two weeks ago.
"I figured we needed to do something," the 47-year-old Gainesville resident said Friday.
Ferguson, an emergency room doctor who is the associate program director for the department of emergency medicine in the University of Florida's College of Medicine, is going to do just that.
With the backing of the Alachua County Medical Society, where he is a board member, he has assembled a medical team that will leave Monday for Bangkok, Thailand. From there, they will head to wherever they are needed most.
Joining Ferguson will be Dr. Terry Flotte, chairman of the department of pediatrics, registered nurses Loraine and Judy Oetter, sisters-in-law with years of ER nursing experience, and Rotarian Ben Campen.
"Ben is an engineer by training, and has been on several missions to South and Central America, so he can help with some of the logistical issues we may run into," Ferguson said.
Once he made up his mind to go, Ferguson started working the phones and combing the Internet, looking for a way to make it happen. The idea, he admits, "sort of snowballed on me.
"I'd ask a little favor and routinely get twice what I asked for," he said.
Ferguson said the group chose Thailand because the necessary infrastructure was still intact. He has no ties to the area. In fact, he's never visited any Asian country before.
"In Thailand, we can show up and be immediately useful, whereas in some other places that were so badly hit, we wouldn't be of any use," he said.
Northwest Airlines agreed to discount the airfare. The medical society collected drug samples and supplies donated by area physicians.
Other staff members at Shands at UF stepped forward to cover shifts while the group is overseas.
"I just felt that somebody had to go there, after they began talking about cholera, typhoid and dysentery and how those diseases may kill as many people as the tsunami did," Ferguson said.
Among the other health concerns that could prove life-threatening to the survivors are respiratory infections and the mosquito-borne diseases malaria and dengue fever.
The World Health Organization has estimated that 300,000 people were injured in the powerful tsunami that struck 11 nations, and left between three and five million survivors without clean water, proper sanitation, health care or shelter.
"Most of us in this country would like to help in some way, and this seemed a very focused way to do that," Flotte said.
He found out Wednesday that the group needed a pediatrician and rearranged his schedule to join up.
"This is very different from what I usually do, and I'm sure it will be a learning experience," Flotte admits.
He said the Alachua County Medical Society is aiming to make a grassroots-level connection with health care providers on site, to find out firsthand what the needs are and help meet them directly.
Ferguson said a second mission is already in the planning stages.
"Right now, the medical society is working out a way to handle contributions so that people who donate can still get a tax deduction," he added.
The group is not yet accepting donations so until that wrinkle is worked out, those who wish to contribute can do so through organizations like the American Red Cross.
The group will spend 10 days in Thailand and return to Gainesville on Jan. 21.
"We hope to establish future rotating teams, because the need for medical personnel will go on for quite a while," Ferguson said.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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