A Time to Serve

DO, medical students lend aid amid chaos following Nepal earthquake

A Massachusetts emergency physician and two MSUCOM students join relief efforts in wake of natural disaster.


As they finished up a weeks-long hiking trip in the mountains of Nepal, Phillip Eskander, OMS IV, and Jonathan VandenBerg, OMS IV, were trekking at 18,000 feet when they began to spot avalanches among the snowy peaks. They were in a small mountain town when the magnitude 7.8 quake hit.

“The first one lasted for about a minute and people were screaming frantically in the village,” Eskander wrote in an email to The DO. “We made our way to higher ground and could hear the mountain begin to crack, which was very loud. [Twenty minutes] later, we began feeling the aftershocks.”

Eskander and VandenBerg, who attend the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in East Lansing, found shelter with their party that night at a teahouse, but didn’t sleep at all for fear of more earthquakes and aftershocks, one of which sent them racing from the building at 5 a.m.

The next day, upon hearing news of the earthquake’s devastation—the latest reports say the earthquake claimed more than 5,000 lives and injured more than 10,000 people—their group traveled to Kathmandu by bus so one of their guides could try to reach his hometown.

“Buildings were destroyed. Bricks were everywhere,” Eskander wrote. “Dead animals along the street. Parts of buildings were laying against other buildings. We made our way into the city and saw temples destroyed.”

Eskander and VandenBerg decided to offer their medical expertise and contacted the Nepal Ministry of Health with hopes of being placed at a makeshift clinic. While they waited for placement, they began amassing the supplies they would need.

“Medications including antibiotics, antidiarrheals, anti-nausea, and antipyretics are some of the most important,” VandenBerg noted. “We were able to purchase a number of important medications last night at a pharmacy for pennies per pill.”

The pair spent Wednesday at a hospital one hour outside Kathmandu providing much-needed care with the aid of translators.

“The two of us ran the hospital and provided care to people who had yet to see any medical personnel since the earthquake on Saturday,” wrote Eskander on Wednesday evening around 11 p.m. Nepal time. “We will either be assigned to the same location tomorrow or somewhere else, depending on where there is greater need.”

Massachusetts-based emergency physician Remi Drozd, DO, was on a three-month volunteer appointment at a health care post when the Nepal earthquake hit, according to WPRI.com. Following the earthquake, Dr. Drozd contacted his wife, Brittany, to let her know that he was safe and was trying to help with disaster relief efforts.

After they return to the U.S., Eskander and VandenBerg will begin internships this summer at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, respectively. VandenBerg says his experience in Nepal has increased his interest in becoming more involved in disaster relief and prevention.

“Helping organize disaster relief is something new for both of us,” VandenBerg wrote. “Anticipating the injuries, disease, and need all around Kathmandu is challenging. This has definitely sparked an interest in how to organize a force against such a wide-reaching disaster.”

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