Dr. John Potts, centre, and two other surgeons operate on a patient at the field hospital. (Samaritan’s Purse photo)

Vancouver Island doctor rushed to help Hurricane Dorian victims days after his retirement

Potts was asked by Samaritan’s Purse to help at a field hospital in Freeport

When Dr. John Potts retired from his family practice in Ladysmith on August 31, a sudden trip to the Bahamas was the last thing he was expecting.

Potts is a member of Samaritan’s Purse, a christian organization that responds to natural disasters around the world. Samaritan’s Purse is connected to a network of health care providers in Canada, America, Australia, and England. When natural disasters occur, Samaritan’s Purse puts out a call to people like Potts.

After Hurricane Dorian swept across the Bahamas, Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport was flooded with two feet of sea water and sewage. Samaritan’s Purse worked to set up a temporary field hospital nearby the Rand Memorial Hospital. Potts worked there for 10 days as a general surgeon.

“In the space of five days we had a functioning operating room,” he said. “I was operating on people by day five. The rest of my time there we were seeing patients.”

Potts said he didn’t see many people suffering from trauma. The people of the Bahamas are no strangers to hurricanes. However medical conditions can’t be put on hold just because hurricanes come through.

RELATED: Disaster Aid Canada provides aid to Hurricane Dorian victims in the Bahamas

About a third of the patients Potts saw were hurricane related. The most common case was people with diabetes and hypertension who had poor circulation to their legs. Many of them sustained a cut to their foot while wading through storm water. That resulted in many cases of cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection that causes pain and swelling.

“The medical side of the response was the initial response we did. As the weeks went on, more and more non-medical stuff was going on,” Potts said. “More work on shelters, rebuilding, water and sanitation — cleaning up wells so they could use wells again — all of that infrastructure stuff you need to do after there’s been a disaster.”

Potts has deployed eight times with Samaritan’s Purse. He previously served in Haiti four times, Ecuador following the 2016 earthquake, the Philippines twice, and at a field hospital near Mosul when the Iraqi army and ISIS were fighting for control of the city.

This deployment was different for Potts. He said the key difference was that the people he worked with and operated on all spoke English.

“It makes a huge difference. You don’t have an interpreter at your elbow all the time. You can talk to someone about how they’re doing, how their wife and kids are, and how they’re feeling,” Potts said.

He said he saw a lot of the same conditions in the Bahamas that he saw on a regular basis in Ladysmith like diabetes, and hypertension.

Potts also said the Bahamian staff of the Rand Memorial Hospital were excellent to work with.

“They were tightly connected to us. Twice a day we would go around the hospital together with the Bahamian doctors… on a couple of occasions their surgeons would operate with us. There was some surgical stuff that I didn’t know how to do, cause it’s beyond me. But the surgeons knew, they just needed an operating room.”

Based on his experience in the Bahamas, Potts feels “very optimistic” that the nation will rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

“The people are resilient, cheerful and determined,” he said. “If somebody came and knocked down your house, and walked away, you’d rebuild something.”

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