Physical therapy alumnus brings skills to Haitians

By Aline McKenzie 

May 2010

A casual lunch led to some of the most intense experiences of Scott McGough’s life.

Mr. McGough, an orthopaedic therapist in Lewisville and a 1997 graduate of
UT Southwestern School of Health Professions, was having lunch with a friend, a doctor who mentioned that the Argyle church he attends was sending a medical mission team to Haiti following the devastating earthquake.

Scott McGough took time from his job as an orthopaedic therapist in Lewisville to travel to the Caribbean in order to help Haitians injured in the recent earthquake.

“I said right away I’d like to go,” Mr. McGough recalled. “I wasn’t sure what my duties would be, but I was grabbed from the get-go. They needed people to get the patients up and moving; they needed to get them off medications.”

The medical mission team didn’t perform its work in Haiti, primarily because travel was too chaotic in the country. Instead, members set up across the border at Good Samaritan Hospital in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

Helicopters brought in the injured, and over a period of four days, the team assisted in about 120 surgeries, including amputations and bone repair and settings — as many as 55 on a single day.
“The sight of so many crush injuries — you couldn’t believe the numbers,” Mr. McGough said.

The medical team dealt with a seemingly endless line of people undergoing amputations. For a makeshift emergency room, members co-opted the patio of an abandoned orphanage. They gently supported one-legged children tottering on crutches for the first time after their injuries and surgeries. And through it all, aftershocks rumbled beneath their feet.

“Every day, there was not an emotion I did not experience: from anger, to anguish, to frustration, to sympathy,” Mr. McGough said.

His collection of photos and videos from the trip show person after person — many of them children — struggling with crutches, learning to cope with the changes in their bodies and balance. The regimen is much the same for amputees everywhere.

“We would do the very same thing for a patient in the United States,” Mr. McGough said. “It’s vital to get someone moving as soon as possible to prevent muscle stiffness, blood clots and sores. The speed is for the patient’s benefit.”

Now, Mr. McGough is firming up plans to return to the region.

Emergency care is only the beginning for the earthquake survivors, he said. The medical team taught the patients how to wrap the stumps and prepare for prosthetic limbs after a period of healing.

For now, the patients are getting by on crutches and walkers. Organizations such as the Oklahoma City-based Limbs For Life Foundation hope to be able to provide prosthetics in the future. The group is collecting donated prosthetics that can be adapted for a new person.

“My focus when I return will be on training and returning people to functional activities like standing and walking,” Mr. McGough said. “The medical work will be less of an emergency situation, but the delicate work like prosthetic fabrication, fitting and training will also take an emotional toll on everyone.”