The Lineup #1: Dave “Davo” Atkin, M.D.

The Lineup #1: Dave “Davo” Atkin, M.D.

The Lineup #1: Dave “Davo” Atkin, M.D.

(Editor’s Note: The Lineup is a new column featuring profiles of local surfers who make notable contributions to the local, and global, community. This column is courtesy of Michael Stewart.)

Local SF surfer leading the charge to bring hope back to Haitian kids – one surgery at a time

Dave Atkin, M.D.  (AKA, Davo) is a rare breed. He’s both a highly skilled orthopedic surgeon, a committed surfer who is well known to the SF surfing community—and a tireless humanitarian. Evidence of his commitment to providing compassionate, exemplary care can be found in the Bay Area and far beyond. For fifteen years,he has provided first-rate surgical services for the underserved communities South of Market at St. Luke’s Hospital. Since 1985, Dr. Atkin has donated his time and talent to Operation Rainbow, an all volunteer nonprofit dedicated to providing orthopedic surgeries to indigent children and adults in developing countries. He is currently a director of the organization, coordinating volunteer medical missions around the world. Most recently, Dr. Atkin and Operation Rainbow have been leading the charge to bring hope back to Haitian kids who have suffered major injuries from the massive earthquake that rocked Haiti earlier this year.

So, while most of our SF Chapter Surfrider Foundation members would have been very happy to travel to a tropical island in the Caribbean to find some warm water waves  during February, Dr. Davo and 15 other volunteers paid their own way to Haiti/Dominican Republic: not to surf in trunks, but to pack in their own field hospital and operate for 10 days straight on Haitians (mostly kids) with massive injuries who had been waiting for weeks in makeshift tent villages. Check out this local ABC Channel 7 video feature for a full story:

Dr. Davo says that while the media attention may have shifted to other news, he describes the medical situation in Haiti as very fragile, and that Operation Rainbow’s efforts in Haiti are ongoing, but that they need support. The initial push to help Haiti left their warehouse of medical supplies in SF almost bare; Operation Rainbow runs these types of mercy missions in Central and South America, but due to the extreme nature of the Haitian event, they have already sent multiple missions to Haiti in the first several weeks. Long story short—Operation Rainbow needs funds (and donations of crutches, etc) to keep doing the emergency and follow-up work that is so desperately needed there right now. Personally – I just keep thinking that as islanders, all these kids are potential wave riders & ocean activists, but that they will need to have their crushed bones reset (instead of amputated in many cases) and working again, in order to fully appreciate the gifts of the sea.

If you would like to help support their completely volunteer efforts to help others less fortunate, please see their website to donate:

A letter from Dr. Davo:

From: Dave Atkin
Date: Fri, Feb 12, 2010
Subject: Haiti Update

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I can hardly believe that only 2 weeks has passed since I last wrote,
In truth, it feels like a lifetime to me.

Our initial introduction to the hospital in Jimani, on the Dominican
border of Haiti, could only be described as “hitting the ground
running” as our sixteen member team was quickly integrated into the
existing volunteers. Our lead anesthesiologist assessed that he was
most needed as the director of a makeshift intensive care unit, our
internist, a calm and thoughtful individual, became the medical
director, our pediatrician immediately went in search of the children
, and the operating room personnel set up our two donated autoclaves
(sterilizing units) for surgery. For my part, the outgoing orthopedic
team, who had done outstanding work, signed out a service of 250
patients, many severely injured, and 15 surgeries yet to be done that day.

My co-surgeon,  Dr.  Chris Comstock, a Stanford trained pediatric
orthopedist, immediately began operating on the children and I on the
adults. His first surgery was Katsana, a 10 year old girl, who had
languished for three weeks with a broken hip, and whose surgery was
made possible when an operative X-ray unit was delivered from the US
the day before we arrived. When she finally crutch-walked on the
wards, she challenged all the other children to do the same, and they
did. She showed us indomitable spirit and went on to be an inspiration
to us all. Her mom told us that since her daughter had been hurt she
had been praying
for angels to come , and now they had arrived; there wasn’t a dry eye
in the house.

As we obtained X-rays on all the patients, we realized the magnitude
of the injuries; spine fractures and dislocations, unstable pelvic
fractures in pregnant women, and badly displaced femur fractures. We
were able to contact the USNS Comfort, and soon thereafter Blackhawk
helicopters arrived to bring these patients to modern facilities where
they could receive sophisticated and definitive treatment. Our medical
director helped prioritize those patients most in need and we all
helped evacuate them.

As the days passed, we developed more efficient systems for
identifying and treating the injuries. We delved into the social
histories of the patients to identify the children who had lost
parents and the parents who had lost children. Dr. Karen Makely, our
pediatrician, immunized the children and created a pediatric ward
where children could be together in a brighter, more cheerful setting.
Her endeavors were accurately chronicled by ABC, and can be viewed on
the link:

We were all impressed by the spirit and resilience of our Haitian
patients; we knew their names and many of their stories. We can still
hear the sound of their voices as they sing hymns in the evenings. For
us, as the week ended, we felt that we had not only become better
providers, but better people.
The need for orthopedic aid in Haiti will be enormous and we, the
members of Operation Rainbow, will be there. Thank you all for your
momentous support.
Please help us to continue helping those in Haiti.

God Bless,
Dave M. Atkin M.D.

Michael Stewart is currently the Vice Chaiman of the San Francisco Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. When not checking for negative low tides, he works on environmental issues and to green-up surfing products.

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