Doctors Deliver Hope In Sri Lanka

The local school in Wellegama, Sri Lanka is now a refugee center. It has 153 familes. Some 550 people whose homes have been washed away get food and shelter there.

The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, who has been touring the diaster zone, says that center has a bonus: medical help. A team of residents from a local hospital and a group of volunteers from several countries set up a clinic.

Linda Sarson is a nurse from Las Vegas. She paid her own way to get to Sri Lanka.

"I think all of us have a reason why we're in the profession we're in, and we want to do it just to make a difference," she says.

Sarson has done this before. She and a friend rushed from Las Vegas to New York on Sept. 11. She set up an aid station at the World Trade Center. Then and now, she couldn't stay away.

"I love it," Sarson says. "I would not exchange this for the world. I could win the Megabucks in Las Vegas, where I'm from, and it would not even pay for what I'm doing today.

"When you come to this country, number one, it's a Third World country in the first place. After this disaster, you can only imagine, they didn't have
anything beforehand. They have nothing now."

Further down the coast, at a school in Materra, we found a group of doctors from Connecticut. Crammed into a tiny classroom, they tirelessly met patient after patient.

Two weeks after the tsunami, it's scrapes and infections -- the stuff that comes from combing through mountains of debris.

Dr. Sherwin Nuland is a retired surgeon with a healers touch. Why did he come? "Because we are doctors, and this is what we do. It's as simple as all that. I guess that is true of everyone here. I never stopped for a moment to think about what the hell I was getting myself into. I just told my wife I'm going and she said, 'I understand,' and we're here."

He works with what he has. At one point, he asked us for a paper clip. Suddenly, I was his assistant. A woman's big toe was badly infected, and the doctor needed something sharp to pierce her toenail, a lighter to sterilize it, and help holding her steady.

Nuland and his colleagues sometimes see 200 people a day. He says much of the basic medical needs of the Sri Lankans are being met now. He fears, though -- for the future.

"I worry about the many, many children we see who lost their parents," Nuland says. "I worry about the single parent who has to raise three children and survive. And I think it might be three or four months before we see the emotional devastation so, if this country needs anything, it's the psychological services of experienced people."

Out in the schoolyard, the kids were happy to introduce themselves to this American. They invited me to join their game. And for a moment, at least, we all had something to smile about.

"Everywhere we've seen these kids, it's been so remarkable, because they've really been quite resilient. (There've been) a lot of smiles on their faces, especially when they see the help comes," Smith says.
  • Brian Dakss

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