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Creighton Doctor, Sen. Nelson Help Coordinate Airlift for Earthquake Survivors

Creighton Doctor, Sen. Nelson Help Coordinate Airlift for Earthquake Survivors

The drama began to unfold Friday night (Jan. 29) when Creighton University physician Theresa Townley, heading the latest Creighton-led medical team to provide care to survivors of Haiti’s Jan. 12 earthquake, made an urgent call for help.

Townley, who was providing care under primitive conditions in a Dominican Republic border town, called Creighton surgeon Charles Filipi, who had been arranging flights and other logistical matters from Omaha. Townley told Filipi that she had critically ill patients who needed to be airlifted to other hospitals with intensive-care capabilities. Otherwise, the patients, including a 7-week-old infant with multiple fractures and a 10-year-old girl with an open hip fracture, would die.

Filipi quickly conferred with other Creighton officials, who contacted Creighton law graduate Michaela Sims, a former aide to Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson. Sims reached Nelson’s staff around midnight to see if the senator could help. Nelson’s staff, working with Filipi, sprang into action.

Early Saturday evening, Nelson spoke with U.S. Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the military command overseeing Haitian efforts, and explained the urgency of the situation. Later, Filipi confirmed that SOUTHCOM had been in touch with the Creighton team and that an evacuation would take place.

Around noon on Sunday, the first group of patients was airlifted by a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter. Three additional helicopters followed with a total of 26 patients and several family members being transported. Another 10 patients were scheduled to be airlifted today (Feb. 1).

“It was nothing short of a Herculean effort to get our patients on the military’s radar, get them moved to the top of the priority list, and execute a flawless extraction that no doubt saved the lives of each of these patients,” Filipi said. “Sen. Nelson and his staff responded in the middle of the night to help us reach the right people in the military and get these patients the help they so desperately needed.”

Townley and several members of her team were scheduled to return today to Omaha. Another team arrived in Jimani, Dominican Republic, on Sunday to take over for Townley’s group; it is the fourth Creighton-led team to help treatment victims of the Haiti earthquake.

To make financial donations to the University and Institute for Latin American Concern’s Haiti earthquake relief efforts, visit CREIGHTON'S RELIEF EFFORT.