The Unimaginable Can Happen

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“Katrina is comparable in intensity to Hurrica...
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Hematologists are not typical “first responders,” and many feel ill-equipped to act in an emergency situation. Dr. Nelson Chao of Duke University hopes that those who attend the Emergency Preparedness Education Program Session this morning at 7:30 in La Nouvelle Ballroom C will feel more prepared to respond in times of crisis. Dr. Chao explains, “Preparation is an area that we don’t stress or think about enough, and we probably should. Our preparation would help both our patients and our staff in an emergency.” The session will include discussion of two recent crises and one hypothetical disaster that we will hopefully never face.

This year, the annual ASH meeting returns to New Orleans for the first time since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. The effects of Hurricane Katrina were felt throughout the United States, but only those who lived through the natural disaster can truly understand its impact. Dr. Cindy Leissinger of Tulane University School of Medicine experienced the disaster first-hand and will share her unique perspective. She hopes that attendees will learn that the unimaginable can happen and that preparation can help in the recovery.

She will focus on the state of the medical community prior to Hurricane Katrina and what was learned from the disaster. One of her lessons involves the importance of communication. As she explains, “After Katrina, all of us were displaced — more than a million people were displaced — and that continued for many months for most of us. The most essential thing during that period for us as professionals and for our patients was the ability to communicate with each other. We had to scramble to put communication systems in place after Katrina — hopefully we learned some lessons that will help us to do a better job if another Katrina happens.” The lessons that Dr. Leissinger will present can be applied to other situations and are essential knowledge for all medical providers.

Questions about the H1N1 influenza outbreak from patients, families, and other providers are common for many hematologists this season. Some of these questions are relatively straightforward, including inquiries about the safety of vaccination and indications for prophylaxis. Other questions are more challenging, including how to vaccinate large patient populations efficiently, what to do when a staff member who has been at work becomes ill, and how to handle a worst-case scenario like an outbreak on a stem cell transplant unit. Dr. Richard Hatchett from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease will update the audience on the international H1N1 outbreak. He will address the current state of readiness and review public health measures. Dr. Hatchett’s expertise will be invaluable for hematologists and oncologists who care for populations vulnerable to influenza and other pathogens.

The session will conclude with Dr. Chao’s discussion of international preparedness for a potential radiological attack. Hematologists, oncologists, and experts in stem cell transplantation are uniquely qualified to care for survivors of a nuclear disaster and would be called on in such an emergency. International collaboration and preparation is necessary for the response to be effective. Dr. Chao will examine the nature of radiation injury and describe current international strategies for emergency response. In the event of a nuclear attack the response must be swift; preparation is essential. The unifying theme of preparedness promises to stimulate thought and discussion.


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