Doctor at Haiti field hospital says vendor may have been trapped in quake rubble for 27 days

By Paisley Dodds, AP
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Doctor says vendor may have been in rubble 27 days

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The tale seems dubious: that a rice vendor survived 27 days trapped under the rubble of a flea market following Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Skeptical health workers said no one could live that long without water and the last confirmed survivor found was a 16-year-old girl removed from rubble 15 days after the Jan. 12 quake. The only sources for the story were the two Haitian men who showed up at a clinic carrying the vendor, dehydrated and malnourished with rail-thin legs.

But then the patient became lucid enough to tell his tale Tuesday. And while his account has not been independently verified, doctors now say the 28-year-old man could have survived on water and possibly some fruit beneath the rubble.

The man — identified as Evans Monsigrace — told doctors he had just finished selling rice for the day at a downtown Port-au-Prince flea market when the quake hit. He said he didn’t suffer any major injuries and was trapped on his side in an area where food and drink vendors were selling their goods.

“Based on that (his story), we believe him,” said Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera, a physician at the University of Miami Medishare field hospital where hundreds of patients have been treated since the quake.

The story began when two men first took the vendor to a Salvation Army medical center in Port-au-Prince on Monday, saying he had been trapped since the earthquake. He was later moved to the University of Miami hospital because of his critical condition.

“He came in delirious, asking to die,” said Nery Ynclan, a University of Miami media officer in Haiti, noting that Creole translators were at the field hospital.

Ynclan said the rice vendor was in stable condition Tuesday and being treated for dehydration and malnutrition. He was nibbling on chocolate, she said.

“Someone could not survive 28 days without water,” Ynclan said. “You can go nine weeks without food.”

Doctors have said that disaster survivors may be able to sustain themselves with a water supply and without medical attention for up to two weeks

Jayaweera said the man originally claimed he had not had any water or food. The man, however, had normal kidney function with heart palpitations, suggesting he at least had drank something but not enough to avoid getting dehydrated, the doctor said.

Still, doctors at the field hospital and at a Salvation Army medical center had no way to confirm the story.

A videotape shot by Michael Andrew, an Arizona-based freelance photographer and a volunteer at the Salvation Army medical center, shows doctors on Monday trying without success to insert a needle into the man’s arm to give him fluid. Doctors there then referred the man to the field hospital at the airport, Andrew told The Associated Press.

The Salvation Army, in a brief posting on its Web site, said the two men, whom it didn’t identify, found the man in the debris of the market Monday. But Andrew said Tuesday it wasn’t clear whether others had provided food and water to the man and that many details of the case had yet to be learned.

It also wasn’t known why teams of international search and rescue workers were not alerted to the man’s reported circumstances in the wrecked market.

The man’s mother, who was at the field hospital, told workers that people clearing rubble downtown discovered him and alerted his brothers.

The Haiti quake killed 230,000 people, the Haitian government said Tuesday.

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