Dr. Linda Halderman in American Samoa
Since arriving on American Samoa to help with medical services after the tsunami, I've felt a renewed connection to my profession and my colleagues. This has been the most rewarding experience of my professional career. The people here in general--especially the patients and staff of the only hospital in the territory--are extraordinary.
ABOUT AMERICAN SAMOA
Pago Pago is the most beautiful harbor I have ever seen. Think of a deep volcanic crater surrounded by mountain greenery so lush it could have been lifted out of a prehistoric jungle. The weather ranges between 79 degrees at night and 85 degrees during the day. It is humid, but much less so than most of Florida.
The rest of the island is a postcard. The shallow turquoise tide pools run between foliage-covered rock formations to create beach scenes out of Gilligan's Island. There are white sand beaches, black volcanic rock beaches and pretty much everything in between. A few areas of the coastline are ideal for surfers.
Almost all of the island is exceptional for snorkeling or diving, though there isn't a hyperbaric chamber on the island. But even without a mask I have seen a dozen types of tropical fish in shallow tide pool waters.
ABOUT THE DISASTER
Pago Pago harbor and four villages on the 77 square mile island were devastated by an earthquake and three tsunami waves on September 29, 2009
By population ratio, American Samoa's human loss during the disaster is the equivalent to a loss of over 13,000 Californians.
Compared with the entire U.S., it would be as though 150,000 Americans died in a single natural disaster.
The island community is struggling to restore services lost during the tsunami. Funerals were held for weeks. As of December 2009, many survivors still live in white domed FEMA tents and wear clothing donated by the American Red Cross.
ABOUT THE PEOPLE'S RESPONSE TO THE DISASTER
80% of the population lives below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, yet these Americans hold clothing drives and somehow find money to donate to others worse off.
In nearly two months here, I've not heard one complaint that there's no Federal bailout or massive aid pouring into the island from the mainland. Public service announcements say nothing about government entitlements, but dozens of private business have funded employee assistance. Hospital employees continue to gather household goods for community members. No one moans, "Why us?"
Churches, in no short supply on the island, keep their doors open 24/7 for those made homeless in the disaster. (The exceptions are the ones destroyed when cars and boats smashed through their chapels. Several others are without a roof or are structurally unsound after flooding.)
So...no whining here, despite a loss so massive I have a hard time believing what I see on parts of the coastline. It doesn't seem possible anyone could have survived.
There are those still missing, including a 7-year-old boy. His 6-year-old sister's and 7-year-old cousin's bodies were found, but his grave is still empty. They were 2nd graders at a school in the village of Leone when the tsunami hit. Most of their older schoolmates had run for higher ground.
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE RECOVERY
Many of my friends and colleagues have asked me how to help American Samoa recover. This is profoundly moving to me as a newcomer to this island. I hope I can convey the gratitude of the people I've met here, especially my colleagues in medicine and nursing.
I am not asking you to donate, and I am acutely aware of what a difficult time this is economically for all Americans.
But if you would like to know how to offer assistance to an American territory that, on a per capita basis, contributes more of its sons and daughters to the United States Armed forces than any other state, please read the message that follows mine.
I will be as helpful as I can be if you have questions, but please don't send any donation to me personally. All donations should go directly through the hospital or another organization you trust or can verify its accountability.
A SPECIAL NOTE TO COLLEAGUES IN MEDICINE AND NURSING:
You are welcome here. You are needed. If you can spare as short as 2 weeks, the hospital can expedite your credentialing. If you can commit 90 days or more, the hospital will take care of your travel and accommodations and pay you a stipend.
Please note: American Samoa’s medical liability system is unique. Malpractice lawsuits as we know them on the U.S. mainland do not exist on American Samoa. Physicians can never be sued individually, only the American Samoa Government. No private medical malpractice insurance is required.
Critical needs exist in these areas: Emergency Medicine and Nursing, Anesthesia, CRNAs, Nurse Practitioners, Respiratory Therapists, PT/OT, Orthopedic Surgery, Vascular Surgery and Dialysis Access, Gastroenterology, General Surgery, any specialist who does colonoscopies(!!!), Nephrology, Endocrinology, any Primary Care specialty comfortable managing diabetes or renal failure, Urology, Oral Maxillofacial Surgery, Radiology, Pathology and any physician or nurse willing to take a few shifts in the Emergency Department.
You don't have to do anything you don't feel comfortable doing.
For the following procedures and specialists, the community’s needs are so acute that travel and accommodations may be covered for stints as short as 10 days: Vascular access surgery for dialysis, Colonoscopy, Cardiology, Nephrology, Oncology.
NOTE: There are current no medical oncology services at LBJ Tropical Medical Center. Many patients with diagnosed malignancies have no resources to obtain off-island treatment. Limited antineoplastic drugs can be obtained in our pharmacy (e.g., 5-FU, Adriamycin, Cytoxan, Tamoxifen, Arimidex, Lupron), but there is no expertise on island to direct the use of these medications. There is one PhD Pharmacist and one trained Oncology RN.
The best contact to answer your questions at LBJ Medical Center is the Director of Human Resources:
ANOTHER NOTE TO HANDY TYPES, PROFESSIONALS AND ANYONE WITH A SKILL, REGARDLESS OF LICENSURE: Please know how valuable you will be considered here. If you have a few weeks or more, come share your knowledge. Critical needs: Computer Experts/Information Technology, Contractors, Builders, Engineers (Solar! Electrical!), Handymen, Electricians...you name it, it's probably in short supply here. If you are willing to lend a hand, red tape can be cut.
Human capital is precious.
There are two flights per week, both on Hawaiian Airlines.
Thank you ("Fa'afetai") for being interested in this tiny patriotic American territory in the middle of the Pacific. She is isolated, but she should not be alone.
MESSAGE FROM CEO OF LBJ TROPICAL MEDICAL CENTER:
Thank you so much for your enquiry as to how you can help. Please know that LBJ has a website (www.lbj.as and www.asmca.org) that you can go to for more information. We have also set up a donation link, and donations can be made directly to us through this weblink by credit card.
As well, we will be very grateful to accept cash (check) donations. These may be written to LBJ Tropical Medical Center, Tsunami relief fund.
Mr. Rick Nader, Chief Financial Officer
Any items that you wish to send you may do so to:
LBJ Tropical Medical Center
If you mark boxes with “medical mission” or “tsunami donations” there will not be a customs issue as Joe or Fota will clear the arriving box before it arrives and will be able to go collect it from the airport or seaport.
Financial donations are easier for us to deal with as it leaves out the logistics, and is in the end less cumbersome as we will buy what we need through our procurement process and have items bulk shopped.
We would also be very happy to fast track immigration and credentialing for any personnel who could free up a month or two to come support our medical, nursing, and ancillary teams as well. This is more difficult as most professionals have other obligations, but it is another option.
Thank you again for your interest in assisting LBJ provide necessary health care the people of American Samoa.
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