Dr. Barbara Bates-Jensen in Haiti

Like the rest of the world, two members of the UCLA School of Nursing faculty watched in horror January 2010 as television networks reported on the devastation in Haiti.  The 7.0-magnitude earthquake had wreaked unimaginable havoc, killing or injuring more than half a million people and leaving as many as 1 million more homeless.  But unlike most viewers, Dr. Barbara Bates-Jensen and Patti Taylor knew they had skills that were in great need in Haiti.

Dr. Bates-Jensen responded to an urgent call for wound-care experts. Although she had no experience responding to disasters or working in combat conditions, her expertise was in demand and "I could not ignore the need," says the associate professor. Taylor, a clinical nurse specialist lecturer and retired U.S. Army nurse who had served on the Desert Shield and Desert Storm missions, knew her experience as a military nurse could be helpful, so she volunteered to be part of a team of UCLA health care professionals – five nurses and one physician – who would treat Haitians suffering from injuries following the quake. "It was the right thing to do," Taylor says simply.

Taylor and Bates-Jensen were deployed at about the same time, and both led their groups. But their experiences were quite different. Bates-Jensen arrived in Haiti 30 days after the earthquake struck – on her birthday. She was sent to Tent City, a hospital compound that was divided into four areas for specialized care – pediatric, adult, surgical and outpatient. By that time, much of the health work in Haiti had transitioned from acute care to rehabilitation and chronic care. Upon her arrival, Bates-Jensen – the only person on her sevenmember team with wound-care experience – was appointed chief of wound services.

All told, there were 75 health care professionals living in one giant tent, with beds 4-5 inches apart. The bathrooms were portapotties and the small shower provided little privacy and only cold water.

The work day started at 6 a.m. and ended 15-16 hours later. On a typical day, Bates-Jensen saw more than 70 patients and she and her team performed between 12 and 20 procedures. They took care of horrific wounds: from botched amputations, from surgeries that hadn't healed properly, and from lying in one position in the rubble. Patients ready for discharge were sent to live in "outpatient" tents on the hospital compound so that they would be able to continue to receive the follow-up care they needed. It's not as if they had any place to go – their homes had been destroyed and they would otherwise return to sleeping on the streets.

"Conditions were challenging – similar to a battlefield without the bombs falling," recalls Bates-Jensen. One day the team almost ran out of water. And while there were two meals a day provided for most patients, food for staff was a bit sketchy. Bates-Jensen ate plenty of power bars and Oreos.