Workers with SIGN Fracture Care International are putting in extra time and effort to respond to a recent earthquake in Nepal while continuing to support the nonprofit’s other international partner hospitals.
The Richland nonprofit is trying to raise about $250,000 to cover the cost of sending supplies to Nepal and to donate directly to SIGN’s 11 partner Nepalese hospitals.
Those hospitals need help covering the daily living costs for their patients, such as food and medicine, said Dr. Lewis Zirkle, SIGN founder and president. Donations will allow those patients to receive basic necessities for free.
It’s better to send the Nepalese hospitals money and let them buy supplies when they are available in their own country, Zirkle said. Shipping is much more expensive than the actual supplies, and the hospitals know exactly what they need.
Two shipments of SIGN supplies to treat fractures, sent before the earthquake, have arrived. Eleven large boxes of supplies sent after the earthquake have made it to Nepal, but were waiting in customs earlier this past week. A hospital in Kathmandu will distribute the supplies from that shipment to hospitals in the area.
The nonprofit has added a second shift in its manufacturing facility to make sure there is enough product to help with the injuries in Nepal and the normal amounts of fractures SIGN partner surgeons treat.
SIGN CEO Jeanne Dillner said they hope to double their production for about two weeks.
Thankfully, the epicenter was far enough away from Kathmandu that the hospitals are still standing and being used, Zirkle said. But surgeons in Nepal are in need of more space for operations because of how many people were injured.
People get hit by buildings. Often there are crush injuries, such as bruised muscles and broken bones. Even if a bone is in multiple pieces, a SIGN nail can still hold it in place, Zirkle said.
“In an earthquake, the majority of the injuries are orthopedic,” he said.
SIGN is preparing to ship an operating room suite, which is everything that is needed to turn an existing room into an operating room for orthopedic surgeries, Zirkle said.
The company has not sent surgeons to Nepal, although the nonprofit is ready to respond if asked. Zirkle said that may happen if more operating rooms can be added.
Fractures where the bone has gone through skin are dealt with first. Sometimes, if the wound can be cleaned and closed, SIGN’s implants can be used to repair the broken bone. But if the wound can’t be closed or the risk of infection is too high, then an external fixator is used to immobilize the fracture.
SIGN first started working with Nepalese surgeons about 13 years ago. Having that experience and working relationship is helpful when responding to disasters of this magnitude, Zirkle said.
He expects SIGN will spend more than $250,000 helping its Nepal partner hospitals. But it should be enough for the first phase.
SIGN’s vision is to improve the quality of fracture care. If a patient can be treated after an earthquake with the same quality of care that someone would receive in the Tri-Cities, then Zirkle says he will know they have achieved the goal.