UPMC | University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
EXTRA! - A biweekly newsletter for staff of UPMC
Friday, Aug. 25, 2006
Volume 17, No. 17
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Bracing for the storm


 


A partnership built on compassion

UPMC sustains effort to help Sri Lankan hospital in tsunami-ravaged region

Dr. Peethamaram Jeepara, in surgical mask, observed surgical cases while visiting UPMC.
Dr. Peethamaram Jeepara, in surgical mask, observed surgical cases while visiting UPMC.

In December 2004, UPMC, backed by an outpouring of generosity from its staff members and administration, pledged to provide meaningful aid to the people of South Asia, who were devastated by the tsunamis that struck their homelands.

In the weeks that followed, UPMC carefully defined the scope of its relief efforts and identified Sri Lanka as an area of particular need. And, rather than provide one-time assistance, UPMC opted to form a long-lasting partnership with Batticaloa Teaching Hospital, located along the eastern coastline of the small island nation.

Nearly 20 months later, that partnership is improving patient care in Batticaloa and providing clinicians in this farming region with the tools and training they need.

A first-hand look

Two Batticaloa physicians recently spent three weeks in Pittsburgh learning new medical techniques, observing how patients are cared for in a variety of clinical settings, and seeing first-hand how innovative educational programs are being used by UPMC to teach health care professionals.

Drs. Peethamaram Jeepara, a laparoscopic surgeon, and Sivalingam Naveenakumar, a dialysis specialist, also praised decisions made by the UPMC Tsunami Advisory Council, a group of UPMC physicians and staff members, including several natives of Sri Lanka and neighboring nations.

The two Batticaloa colleagues noted that some relief organizations opted to send a one-time infusion of aid to Sri Lanka, where the government estimated that 30,000 people were killed. But UPMC adopted a different strategy and chose to establish an ongoing partnership with the Batticaloa hospital.

“We are an isolated rural area, and we need a sustained effort to build our medical resources. This (UPMC’s long-term commitment to help) is a better way,” said Dr. Jeepara after a visit to the Peter M. Winter Institute for Simulation, Education, and Research (WISER). Located on UPMC’s Oakland campus, WISER faculty use human- like patient simulators that breathe, bleed, cough, and even cry to teach physicians, residents, nursing students, and others how to complete an array of medical procedures.

“UPMC is proud to develop and nurture this partnership. Our staff donated generously, and UPMC provided $50,000

in matching contributions to demonstrate that this health system is committed to helping people in need beyond western Pennsylvania,” says Loren Roth, MD, MPH, UPMC’s chief medical officer and chair of the UPMC Tsunami Advisory Council.

The psychological impact of destruction

Dr. Sivalingam Naveenakumar from Sri Lanka, met with Raymond Rault, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians, Renal-Electrolyte Division.
Dr. Sivalingam Naveenakumar from Sri Lanka, met with Raymond Rault, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh Physicians, Renal-Electrolyte Division.

Dr. Naveenakumar noted that Batticaloa is about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the seashore. Tsunami waters did not reach the hospital, but it was overwhelmed with casualties.

The psychological impact of the tsunami lingers. Dr. Naveenakumar explained that suicide rates among those who lost some or all members of their immediate families are extremely high. Farm fertilizers are often ingested intentionally. Those cases and the high number of poisonous snakes bites have increased the need for peritoneal dialysis or hemodialysis to remove toxins from the bloodstream.

Equipment to meet that medical need and others is being provided by UPMC. Dr. Jeepara thanked UPMC for providing a flexible cystoscope, a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens used to look inside the bladder to detect tumors and other abnormalities. The cystoscope has been well used at Batticaloa, eliminating the need for patients to make the seven-hour bus or train trip to Colombo, the capital city, for the procedure.

An educational exchange

Drs. Jeepara and Naveenakumar are the second and third Batticaloa hospital physicians to visit UPMC. In December 2005, one of that hospital’s senior dental surgeons, who also serves as a top administrator, visited UPMC.

For these visitors, the educational opportunities at UPMC are immense. Dr. Jeepara was enthralled by the minimally invasive technology used to repair hernias and complete colon surgeries and gastric bypass procedures. “What has impressed me is the limited scarring and short recovery stay in the hospital following surgery,” said Dr. Jeepara.

Collaboration among health care team members was of special interest to Dr. Naveenakumar. For example, at UPMC, a nephrologist (a physician who has been trained in the diagnosis and management of kidney disease) can consult immediately with vascular specialists, nutritionists, social workers, and others.

The next step in the ongoing partnership between the Batticaloa hospital and UPMC also could involve education. Drs. Jeepara and Naveenakumar envision a program in which third-year students from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine could visit Sri Lanka to study tropical diseases and illnesses.

 

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