Donna Cloutier discovered a week ago how fast she can run.
The Courtenay Rotarian arrived at a Filipino hospital Oct. 15 at 7:30 a.m. and began preparing surgical instruments.
Everything appeared to be routine until 8:12 a.m., when the earth shook violently. Cloutier yelled “earthquake” and ran out of the building, covering her head in case of falling debris.
“It was complete chaos,” she wrote by e-mail from the Philippines, which was hit last Tuesday by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.
Cloutier — a manager at Pateman & Company and member of the Courtenay Rotary Club — was volunteering with a Rotaplast (derived from Rotary and plastic) mission for cleft lip and palate surgeries.
“It’s interesting how quickly you can run when you know that this building can collapse from above onto you or into your path. Debris was falling down all around me but did not hit me. Moms and children were trying to run out of the building as fast as they could, in their flip-flops.”
Like many buildings in the Philippines, she said construction of the hospital is not to code. As such, the entire building needed to be evacuated. But surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses remained behind to finish what they could before moving patients outside, including two Rotaplast patients in operating rooms.
Staff created a hospital in an “empty, dirty, flea-infested field,” she said.
Three patients died in the makeshift hospital due to a loss of oxygen. Other patients and staff members were injured. One man suffered a gouge to his head from falling debris. Another had a protruding object wrapped in gauze on his head.
Cloutier credits nurses, doctors, volunteers and family members for helping to contain the situation.
“The Philippine culture knows how to take care of each other, especially during times of crisis. Eventually, bananas and bottled water were being handed out to everyone.”
The earthquake killed more than 100 people. Its epicentre was in the island of Bohol in the central part of the country, but people were also killed in the province of Cebu, where Cloutier has been volunteering.
The Rotaplast mission was in jeopardy of being shut down. But by Wednesday morning, teams had cleaned rooms and reorganized patient flow.
“There are still tremors,” Cloutier said Wednesday. “They make us all uncomfortable. They make us wonder if this is another ‘Churchill’ quake or another ‘San Francisco’ quake. But the team moves on, working with these beautiful children, all wanting to have a normal childhood and to let their smiles tell a story.”
For more about the program, visit the Cebu Philippines Rotaplast Mission blog at http://rotaplast.typepad.com/missions.
Cloutier’s spouse, Eddy Betinol, and staff at Joint Physiotherapy, in partnership with the regional Filipino community, will host a fund-raising dinner — A Taste of the Philippines — tentatively scheduled for Nov. 24 at the Native Sons Hall.
Betinol is Filipino. His family resides in Bohol, where Cloutier had planned to visit. Some of the family’s homes were destroyed.