By the light of their headlamps, doctors performed an emergency C-section in the dead of night this week in the Philippines, working with dwindling supplies in the decimated husk of what was once the City Hall of Tanuan. Though the walls still stand, the roof had been blown off days earlier in the tumult of Typhoon Haiyan, and a second storm was sloshing its way through already destroyed areas.
Huddled under a tarp, the team from Mammoth Medical Missions worked to save two lives at once, mother and baby, in one of roughly 150 surgeries it has performed since landing in the country over the weekend, said Dr. Kim Escudero in a phone interview. Escudero is helping organize the mission from the U.S., where she gets five-minute satellite phone updates from her husband, Dr. Michael Karch, one of the 17 medical professionals who flew out from the U.S. to provide aid.
The Mammoth Medical Missions team has never responded to an emergency before, and it was packed and ready to head to Chiapas, Mexico, when Haiyan began its weather assault on the Philippines, unleashing 147-mph winds and 20-foot waves that brought a surge of brackish water inland, far beyond the shoreline. Nearly 10 million have been affected; thousands are feared dead.
"They’re usually in some type of hospital or medical facility, something that's a little more stable, with running water and some resources," Escudero said. "What’s different here is the instability and lack of backup and supplies. There's no running water, nothing—that’s what’s so much harder here, just the instability."
Half the team was at Los Angeles International Airport and the other half was on its way there late last week when news of Haiyan inspired them to change direction: They grabbed some food and got on a commercial flight to Manila to help.
Since taking a helicopter to Tanuan on Saturday, they've performed numerous amputations, tended countless wounds, and delivered a baby. They're expecting 40 to 50 surgeries today.
But supplies are dwindling, and Escudero is concerned the team will run out of the things it requires to continue meeting the medical needs of the ravaged parts of the Philippines.
"This was just bigger than we imagined—we had no idea how big this could be when they left," said Escudero.