Nightly News   |  January 18, 2010

Deadly injuries force agonizing choices

Jan. 18: Doctors are treating a huge number of similar injuries from Haiti's devastating earthquake at a private hospital now being used as a trauma center. NBC's Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> this disaster.

>>> the doctors treating those who have managed to get out of the rubble and into a medical facility are seeing the same kinds of injuries over and over . that is forcing some agonizing choices now. our chief medical editor dr. nancy snyderman went to haiti to treat patients. nancy, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. today i was at a private hospital that's turned into a trauma center . 5,000 people yesterday, no idea how many today. and what you said, crush injuries, broken bones , the kinds of injuries that are leaving very few options.

>> she is going to need an amputation.

>> reporter: if there's a theme to anything in haiti today, it is this. the decision to amputate an arm or leg can make the difference between living or dying. dr. julie manly arrived this morning from raliegh, north carolina .

>> we are seeing so many people who have gone five, six, seven days with traumatic injuries that have been basically left to fester and just get worse and worse.

>> reporter: the triage is overwhelming, not only because of the constant stream of people with fractures, but because wounds are now infected. there aren't enough antibiotics and if the infection spreads to the blood stream , a patient will die a painful death.

>> she has a very bad infection. i know.

>> reporter: for the mother of this 5-year-old girl, the decision is agonizing and complicated.

>> she would prefer for her daughter to die? [ sobbing n. ]

>> does she have any other family here? hold her hand, hold her hand.

>> reporter: in haiti , the prospect of a decent life as an amputee is grim. but grim or not, surge cal teams are amputating the limbs of up to 70 people a day, there is no end in sight. people wait for a slot in the or, if this pace continues, haiti will soon be a nation of amputees. the cost to this fragile economy will be devastating, with no idea of artificial limbs , arms and legs ever really making it here. if there is a bright spot at all, it's that the call for surgeons and nurses is being heard around the world. a real need for orthopedic surgeons , and doctors continue to stream in every day.

>> dr. nancy snyderman , thanks. some of those who have been