Girl's 15 Days in Haiti Rubble Raises Survival Questions

"The other major factor that would come into play is if she sustained any injuries," Schreiber said, because injured muscles release a substance "that directly hurts the kidneys and the combination of crush injuries and dehydration is a deadly combo."

In Etienne's case, Schreiber said she was lucky to have lived two weeks and he guessed "she probably didn't have any major injuries."

This story is one of a few miraculous search and rescue stories to come out of the aftermath of Haiti's quake.

Buried for Days

Dr. Dominique Jan, the chief of pediatric surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., spent a week after the earthquake with a surgical team working under the Surgeons of Hope Foundation.

One of the more remarkable stories Jan saw was that of a 12-year-old girl who came to doctors after surviving nine days buried under rubble without food and water.

Her mother had been begging for her to be rescued, and "the girl was knocking on the concrete" trying to signal to rescuers, Jan said.

"She was very bad when she just arrived in our clinic," he said, but her recovery went smoothly and quickly.

"I think the first thing, when we like to resuscitate the patient…is to make sure there are no other injuries," explained Jan, noting that problems can emerge when doctors are focused on treating the most obvious trauma but may miss other problems.

Dehydration, Crushing Injuries Make Rescue More Difficult

In this case, "obviously her chest was compressed for nine days and she wasn't breathing well."

But Jan said the doctors needed to look for other potential problems.

"We want to avoid any brain injury. Our main concern was to make sure there was no abdominal injury but also brain injury related to trauma or [lack of sugars in the body]," he said.

Jan said doctors attended to the 12-year-old girl every 10 minutes for the first six hours after she arrived at the hospital.

"My main concern was probably the fluid and obviously she was dehydrated when she came, but she responded pretty well to the treatment," said Jan.

"She was absolutely off liquid and food and she survived nine days. The fact that she had no major trauma and probably in a warm condition [a tropical country versus a cold climate where exposure is a concern] was [part of her] survival," said Jan. "I think that she was lucky."

While the girl was able to leave the hospital after a few days, Jan said her family's house had been destroyed and so the family brought her home to a camp.

As most search and rescue teams have transitioned to finding bodies, so too will the aid and medical teams transition to helping survivors leaving Port-au-Prince.

Few Resources Force Rescue Workers to Prioritize the Living

For the two girls now recovering, "the good news is...if the kidney is not too damaged, there should be no long-term effects and you can expect a full recovery," said Bozeman.

But when resources are stretched thin, it is not necessarily prudent to dedicate time to search and rescue when others already found need medical attention, notes Schreiber.

"In this situation where there is no infrastructure and an overwhelming number of patients needing care, [lack of resources] is going to be play a big role in when would you 'give up' looking," said Schreiber.

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