Have you ever really thought about perilous experiences you hope to never experience? My guess is, if you have, being caught in a major earthquake would be one of them. Nancy Malhotra, Director of Trauma Services at Chippenham Hospital, recently found herself on the other side of the world during just such an event.
Nancy & Ajai
Nancy and her husband, Dr. Ajai Malhotra, a trauma surgeon at VCU Medical Center, flew to Nepal in April with plans to do an adventurous 18 days trek to Mt. Everest base camp. The plan was to join Nancy’s 23 year old stepdaughter who was finishing her work with a human rights organization in the capital city, Kathmandu. They flew into Nepal and proceeded on in a small plane for 70 miles to a remote airport in the mountain village of Lukla. After the long travel, they hiked 24 miles to base camp with the assistance of a Sherpa. The first part of the trip went off without a hitch, reaching the base of Mt. Everest after seven days. However, things dramatically change when they were on their way back, still 3 hours away from the Lukla airport. While crossing a 100 foot suspension bridge, 200 feet off the ground, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. The epicenter of the quake was in Kathmandu but the impact was far reaching. You would think the best idea would be to get off a shaky primitive bridge and move to either side. However, with rocks tumbling off the mountainside, being on the bridge was the safest option. The bridge swung back and forth for almost a minute. They didn’t realize at the time how significant the damage was until they started the hike back to Lukla. As they passed through the small towns along the way it was obvious that they were abandoned as people relocated to the more populated villages to get help or see family members in Kathmandu. By the time Nancy and her husband arrived at Lukla all the flights were canceled and injured people started coming into the town for help. If you have followed the story in the media, you know that over 7,000 people perished, including 19 at base camp, from the avalanches. One of the women who died from an avalanche was a 49 year old who Nancy had come to know through the journey.
Plnn Hospital in Lukla
Nancy is also an acute care Nurse Practitioner; she and her husband immediately offered to help triage and treat the injured in Lukla. She worked in triage at the airport while her physician husband went to the small primitive hospital in town. Over 70 people were treated by the triage area within 3 hours. Their roles were to determine whether the patients would stay in Lukla or go to Kathmandu where more medical diagnostic and treatment options were available. The vast majority of the patients had head injuries. Many of the injured were Sherpas and guides. Unfortunately, they also received 6 bodies from base camp.
I asked Nancy how the experience changed her. She said, “While watching the landslides from the suspension bridge I thought I was going to die. I could see rocks falling down onto the houses below.” She went on to talk about the experience, “I didn’t know all the other hikers’ names through the trek, but because of the experience, we soon became a tight-knit family. It was hard to leave because we felt like we needed to continue to help. Unfortunately, the government of Nepal is resistant to help because of the political issues with China and India and funding doesn’t always get to those who need it most.”
She talked extensively about the beauty of the trip, “Mt. Everest base camp was at an elevation of 17,500 ft. It was a very tough climb and I hadn’t really trained for it. (Nancy also ran the NY marathon in 2011 without training.) I was on cloud nine making the trip and Nepal is one of the most beautiful countries. At 16,000 ft. you still have mountains towering over you. The people are incredibly gracious. They live on an average salary is $800/year and are totally dependent on tourist. “
Nancy and her husband are difference makers. They stepped up when they were needed and helped with their exceptional skills and compassionate hearts.
HCA stepped up too. The company is dontaing up to $1 million to support the Nepal earthquake relief efforts: $250,000 to Doctors Without Borders and MedShare International, a non-profit that redistributes surplus supplies and equipment to those in need, and will match up to $500,000 of donations from HCA employees and vendors to the American Red Cross.
I am proud of Nancy and proud to be associated with HCA.