By Lance Cpl. Warren Peace, MCB Camp Butler
SEWON, Indonesia (June 8, 2006) — Walking toward her home, Siti Nuriyami felt the earth rumble beneath her feet. Seconds later, her home was crumbling at Mother Nature’s hand.
Realizing her infant son was in the house sleeping, she darted in to save her only child. As she entered the front door, the entire structure caved in, crushing mother and child. It was May 27, a day of pain and sorrow for Nuriyami and the other villagers of Bantul, Indonesia.
A 6.3-magnitude earthquake killed more than 6,000 people and injured about 33,000 near the ancient city of Yogyakarta. The world responded by swarming the island of Java with disaster relief teams and temporary hospitals.
One of the first groups to arrive May 29 was the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) medical assistance team was one of the first groups to arrive. Anchored by Navy medical professionals from the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, Amphibious Squadron -1, and the USNS Mercy, Marines immediately began coordinating with the Indonesian military and relief organizations in the area.
Five days after the MEB established its mobile medical facility, medical personnel treated more than 800 patients, and its surgical teams performed 23 surgeries. Civilian doctors from the United States, Indonesia, Australia and other countries joined the 3rd MEB team effort to care for the injured.
Nuriyami was one of the first patients treated. Navy Surgeon Cmdr. Carlos D. Godinez Jr. said he found her May 31 at the district hospital in Bantul. She had been lying on a mattress four days outside the overflowing hospital among hundreds of earthquake victims, with a tube coming out of her chest.
The crowded hospital was no special case, according to Godinez. Every hospital in the region was overstressed and in need of help. Nuriyami has been the most ill patient I’ve seen here,” he said. “She had at least two life-threatening ailments: Air in her chest from a punctured lung and a bad infection; in addition to a fractured arm and pelvis.
Godinez created a makeshift splint out of pieces of wood and coordinated with hospital officials to transport her to 3rd MEB’s mobile medical facility in Sewon, Indonesia. Nuriyami underwent additional treatment, but her condition continued to deteriorate. Because the MEB facility did not include space for inpatient care, the Navy surgical team arranged her transfer to Sardjito Medical Center, a larger hospital in Yogyakarta. Godinez escorted her.
While at the hospital, Nuriyami’s husband Rukino told Godinez that he could not bear to tell his wife that their child had died despite her efforts. “She has been through so much pain, I don’t think she can handle it,” he said. “She was lucky enough to get out alive, but our son wasn’t.”
Godinez said Nuriyami is currently doing well in the hospital. “Her future has the potential to be bright,” he said. “She will have to deal with the memory of her son, but her injuries should not slow her down one inch.” Her story is the type that has become familiar to 3rd MEB corpsmen and doctors in the wake of the devastating earthquake.
“The facility was capable of general surgery and acute, urgent, and primary care, but it morphed into a deliverer of a broad spectrum of post disaster health services,” said Navy Capt. David A. Lane, the 3rd MEB command surgeon. “These services even include tetanus vaccinations for all patients with open wounds.”
The 3rd MEB also coordinates outreach teams in affected Bantul villages, providing medical assistance and hope to those who can not make it to 3rd MEB facilities or local hospitals.