Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
New Brunswick • Somerset

Neonatologist Aids Haiti Relief Efforts

April 19, 2010
In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Dr. Daniel Hirsch, Director of Neonatology at Somerset Medical Center, contacted The Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad to offer his medical assistance. Since this was his first relief mission, Dr. Hirsch was unsure as to what extent his expertise in neonatology would be valuable, considering it is a very technical sub-specialty. However, it became quickly apparent that Haiti was in dire need of help, and Dr. Hirsch’s talents were greatly needed. 

At the General Hospital in Port Au Prince, the designated neonatal ICU was essentially a simple tent into which eight babies were crowded into at a time. Without x-rays and blood tests at his immediate disposal, Dr. Hirsch had to rely on his extensive knowledge of how both a healthy child and a sick child looks, sounds, and behaves to make critical medical decisions. Dr. Hirsch was also struck by the drastic difference in hospital working hours there. 

“In America, we cannot even imagine a hospital closing for the night. However, the local doctors and nurses in Haiti left at 11 at night, and didn’t return until 5 in the morning. It was a troubling concept to accept, given the grave situation”, Dr. Hirsch admitted. 

Dr. Hirsch also had to make adjustments in medical treatment methods. “There was little funding going towards tents, so it was incredibly difficult to find room to store scarce medical supplies,” explained Dr. Hirsch. “We had to provide the best care possible with the few materials available to us. Ingenuity became essential to medical treatment. A simple procedure, such as starting an intravenous line, required the use of an improvised piece of cardboard box to immobilize the patient’s arm.” 

The language barrier presented an additional problem. Although Dr. Hirsch did not expect the barrier to pose as many issues as it did, he credits much of his trip’s success to a Haitian physician from Florida who understood and explained the subtleties and nuances of the Haitian language. Without her, Dr. Hirsch would have been forced to rely on a teenage translator who was incapable of translating complex medical exchanges between local and visiting doctors. Despite the language gap, Dr. Hirsch found that the visiting doctors were able to work compassionately and cooperatively with the Haitian attending physicians. 

“Upon returning home, and after I resumed my normal routine at Somerset Medical Center, the quality of healthcare in Haiti left a lasting impression on me,” shared Dr. Hirsch. “Many of the medical buildings there, including the Pediatric facility, are severely damaged and beyond repair. As a result, Haitian physicians and nurses are forced to work in simple tents, with nothing more than a few light bulbs and a fan hanging from the ceiling. It is important that we help advance Haiti’s medical system from its primitive state. I am continuing to work with the Chief of Pediatrics in Haiti, to help acquire more sophisticated tents for the physicians to work in while proper medical facilities are built.” 

In the twenty one years since Dr. Daniel Hirsch, M.D., earned his Medical Degree, he has grown accustomed to dealing with children in serious physical distress. As the Director of Neonatology at the Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J., Dr. Hirsch oversees the neonatal unit, attending to high-risk deliveries, including prematurity, breathing problems, and other serious conditions. Years of pediatric experience have given him the ability to differentiate between sick and healthy patients using not only diagnostic technologies, but often by their visual appearance. While Dr. Hirsch has all of the resources he needs at Somerset Medical Center, his professional experience and intuitive skills proved invaluable throughout his medical relief mission to Haiti. 

About Dr. Hirsch
Dr. Hirsch was born and raised in Philadelphia, and he moved to the Bronx, New York twenty years ago. He graduated from Temple University School of Medicine with an MD, and completed his residency and fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is board certified in Neonatal –Perinatal Medicine and Pediatrics, and currently holds the position of Director of Neonatology at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, New Jersey. He has authored several publications related to his special interests, which include breastfeeding term and preterm infants, the associations between vitamin D and breastfeeding, and head cooling of asphyxiated newborns.

About Somerset Medical Center
Somerset Medical Center is a nationally accredited, regional medical center providing comprehensive emergency, medical/surgical and rehabilitative services and a broad range of community programs to Central New Jersey residents. The medical center is an affiliate of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a clinical research affiliate of The Cancer Institute of New Jersey. For more information please visit www.somersetmedicalcenter.com.