Israeli Field Hospital Carries on Inspiring Work in Japan

The Toronto Star's Catherine Porter has a column on the Israeli medical team helping Japan recover from the devastating tsunami:

Three days after the earthquake levelled Port-au-Prince last year, a foreign medical team set up a hospital in a soccer field with equipment and supplies unheard of in the rest of the broken city – an X-ray machine, a blood lab, an ultrasound and two incubators for babies who were born prematurely to traumatized mothers.

Now, at the cusp of Japan’s ground zero, where a whole village was dragged out to sea, the same foreign team has erected seven medical buildings. Equipped with many of the same supplies used by the team in Haiti, they are helping hundreds of survivors.

Your guess: the medical team comes from the United States? France? Canada?

No.

Israel.

“Forty countries around the world approached Japan and offered their (medical) assistance. We were the only ones to come,” Dr. Ofer Merin told me by phone from the remains of Minami-Sanriku, seven hours north of Tokyo. “It’s a real privilege.”

Merin is a cardiac surgeon at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zadek hospital. He is also the chief of the field hospital for the Israeli Defense Force’s reserve unit. The field hospital, he told me, is on call for national emergencies and since 1979, has travelled internationally on emergency humanitarian missions.

Japan is their 12th mission.

“If you drop our group in the middle of a desert we can work,” says Merin, who spent two years in Toronto a decade ago, working at Sunnybrook hospital.

I heard about the Israeli hospital in Port-au-Prince, but never saw it. It was mythical – while around most of the city, local and foreign doctors were reduced to civil war-era surgeries, cutting off infected legs with razor blades and no anesthetic, the Israelis offered their patents respirators and blood transfusions in specialized tent wards. A CBS reporter called it “the Rolls-Royce of emergency medical care.”

It was the first foreign field hospital on the ground – landing in the middle of the night three days after the Jan. 12 quake, and operating six hours later. Over the next 10 days, the medical team treated 1,100 patients and conducted 242 surgeries.

The situation is very different in Japan, Merin said. Arriving a couple weeks after a four-storey wall of water swept away more than half of Minami-Sanriku’s 16,000 people, the 50-member medical team isn’t dealing with emergencies.

Instead they’ve set up a clinic with expertise not easily found in rural Japan – gynecology, urology, pediatrics, ophthalmology. Given the gasoline shortage, an obstetrical team has been visiting pregnant women in the scattered emergency shelters, ultrasound in hand.

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In the video below, the Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister, Makiko Kikuta, visits the IDF aid delegation's medical clinic in Minamisanriku, a city heavily hit by the tsunami. She toured the facility and met with delegation members, who communicated via IDF translators.