Local Heroes: Sherman Oaks residents Lee and Patty Kagan help to save lives in Haiti

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For the past two years, Sherman Oaks internist Lee Kagan and his wife Patty, a critical care nurse and nurse educator at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, have visited the Dominican Republic with teams of medical students and faculty from the Mayo Clinic medical school. They haven’t gone to attend a medical convention at one of the Dominican Republic’s spectacular beachfront resorts, but to visit the dusty border town of Jimani and work providing primary medical care to desperately poor Haitian sugar cane workers who live in squalid settlements along the frontier.

Patty Kagan

Patty Kagan helping patients in a hospital tent in the border town of Jimani. Photos courtesy of Lee and Patty Kagan.

As the couple was completing their plans for their return this year, the earthquake devastated Haiti and the injured began pouring across the border, overwhelming the International Medical Alliance supported hospital in Jimani. Calls for help to the I.M.A. brought a vascular surgeon and an orthopedic specialist along with others who began treating the severely injured within two days of the quake. Soon more surgeons, anesthesiologists and RN’s from other groups and countries showed up as well. Eventually there were over 1,800 people at the site of the clinic, 417 patients and their family members.

Dr. Kagan reports that 120 amputations were done that first week, and numerous fractures were stabilized as patients and families members slept on mats and mattresses in the orphanage, an open-air chapel and in a facilities tent.

Kagans and Ellen

(L-R) Patty Kagan, Dr. Lee Kagan, and Ellen Potter, neuroscientist at the Salk Institute.

The Kagans, along with pediatrician Bert Fernandez, E.R. physician Dr. Dick Goldberg, and Ellen Potter, neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, arrived in Jimani on Day Ten and found over 300 patients waiting for them. Working over 14 hour days in stifling 90 degree heat, Patty managed a tent housing 25-30 post-amputation or fracture patients and their families. To check vital signs, administer medications, tend I.V.’s or comfort frightened children, Patty and the other nurses had to squat on their haunches or get on their knees in the stony dirt floor of the stifling tent.

Lee Kagan first cared for stable patients at the orphanage, but was asked to co-direct the care of patients in the clinic’s 12-bed makeshift ICU/Recovery room adjacent to the OR’s. These patients were not only injured, but had complications such as kidney failure (a result of crush injury), pneumonia, collapsed lung, fevers, and dehydration. Dr. Kagan also helped supervise the transportation of critically ill patients via helicopter to hospitals either in Santo Domingo or on the USS Comfort anchored offshore Port-au-Prince.


The Kagans, along with pediatrician Bert Fernandez, E.R. physician Dr. Dick Goldberg, and Ellen Potter, neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, arrived in Jimani on Day Ten and found over 300 patients waiting for them.

The Kagans will be returning to Jimani in a few days for another week of grueling work under the most difficult conditions with the needy, desperately sick, and often orphaned patients they so generously care for and love.

If you would like to support the efforts of these local heroes and assist in the care and feeding of the ill and injured in Haiti, please make a tax-deductible donation to International Medical Alliance,  http://www.imaonline.org/. IMA is a volunteer organization and has no paid employees. 100% of all donations made at this time will be used to provide medicine, food, and surgical supplies to care for patients injured in the Haitian earthquakes. P.O. Box 20407, Knoxville, TN 37940 865-209-4928.

Jo Perry has a Ph.D. in English, taught literature and writing, and worked as a college administrator and as a television writer and producer. She is a reviewer for BookBrowse.com and is an ongoing contributor to kidsLA Magazine for which she writes about the city, children’s books, and conducts interviews. For two years she wrote the Kids’ Book Club column for the L.A. Times’ Kids’ Reading Room page.  She is also the co-creator of the Silent Bodyguard iPhone app.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.