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Community nurse from Northumberland helps earthquake survivors in Nepal

Friday, 07 August, 2015
Community nurse from Northumberland helps earthquake survivors in Nepal

A community nurse from Northumberland has dedicated his summer holiday to helping survivors after two devastating earthquakes in Nepal.

Staff nurse Bruce Fraser from Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust travelled to the Himalayas in July to provide medical care to villagers in Sindhupalchowk district. 

It is estimated that more than 9,000 people died and hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless following the Gorkha earthquake in April and a second earthquake in Sindhupalchowk a few weeks later.

Bruce, who has 20 years of nursing experience, travelled first to meet with the non-government organisation Childreach Nepal for a day of cultural awareness training and then on to the Red Cross field hospital in Chautara, where he met up with interpreter and guide, 30-year-old Umesh, who took him to his home village of Panichaur, at the centre of one of the worst affected areas.

Bruce said: “We knew that every village in the area had been devastated and, to date, no medical assistance had been able to reach them. 

“Families are living under tarpaulins or sheets of corrugated tin in insanitary conditions, with several generations, and their livestock, crammed together under one makeshift roof.”

Bruce is a community nurse covering areas around Blyth, Cramlington, Ashington and Morpeth for Northumbria Healthcare which delivers hospital and community health services in Northumberland and North Tyneside, and adult social care services in Northumberland in partnership with Northumberland County Council.

Every day Bruce and Umesh loaded up medical supplies and set off to trek on foot for two or three hours deep into the mountains to try and reach villages levelled by the earthquake. He saw more than 150 people with a range of conditions including open wounds, infections, suspected typhoid and dehydration.

Bruce said: “Most people had never seen a doctor or nurse in their lives, relying mostly on herbal medicines. They expected nothing, but they were so grateful that they had not been forgotten. 

“On the first day I saw a four week-old baby boy with a severe eye infection. The child’s father was working away and had never met his child.  Baby and mother were living with one set of grandparents. The mother was trying to clean her son’s eyes with rags, and was terrified he might go blind.

“After a week’s course of eye drops, I made a return visit and he had opened his eyes and they were clear of infection.  In thanks, I was given the honour of naming him and chose the name Thomas.” 

In steaming 35C heat, Bruce went wherever help was needed, treating those he could, and directing those with more serious conditions to the Red Cross. 

He said: “There was a never ending queue of people, but I saw nothing but smiles and no one ever complained of their misfortune. People were helping each other to survive.”

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is at the forefront of work in the UK in the international volunteering field and is recognised across the NHS for its work to develop international links. 

Northumbria Healthcare’s head of International Partnerships, Brenda Longstaff, said: “Bruce is an example of the many selfless staff who volunteer, often in difficult and potentially dangerous areas of the world, so that people can benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

“We are fully committed to continuing to support staff as part of our international partnership work.”