UConn Health Doc Gives Back to His Hurricane-Ravaged Homeland

UConn Health's Dr. Hynes Birmingham, right, and a colleague work with a patient in Dominica after Hurricane Maria. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Birmingham)
UConn Health's Dr. Hynes Birmingham, right, and a colleague work with a patient in Dominica after Hurricane Maria. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Birmingham)

UConn Health emergency medicine physician Dr. Hynes Birmingham returned for two weeks this fall to his native island of Dominica to provide much-needed emergency and primary medical care to the island’s residents after Hurricane Maria.

Birmingham flew to Dominica on Oct. 23 via a six-passenger flight chartered by Rescue Global, as part of a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers dispatched to the island by the International Medical Corps, arriving on a tiny landing strip in the town of Canefield, as the island’s airport was closed to all commercial flights.

“My first return to the very small island of my birth following the hurricane’s devastating impact was truly eye-opening,” says Birmingham, who moved to the U.S. from the small island when he was four years old.

A graduate of both the University of Connecticut and the UConn School of Medicine, Birmingham regularly cares for patients in the Emergency Department at UConn John Dempsey Hospital, and mentors and teaches residents and medical students.

In Dominica, he served with Rescue Global members from various countries, including England, Canada, and Germany, who brought with them essential medical supplies.

The most shocking experience of his trip was seeing the island from above as the plane descended, Birmingham said. Once a lush terrain covered by rainforest, the island was brown and stripped bare of all foliage and greenery.

Reportedly 70 percent of the island’s housing and infrastructure were severely damaged – including medical facilities, which are now understaffed and have limited drug supplies, lab capabilities, and imaging equipment. The storm has had a devastating impact on the tourism industry, and on agriculture, which is responsible for many of the island’s chief exports.

While in the country, Birmingham cared for patients in outlying communities and towns, providing primary and urgent care, including stabilizing the most severely ill patients to be transferred to the main hospital in the capital city of Roseau.

Birmingham helped care for many patients who were still suffering weeks after the hurricane from injuries and infections arising as a result of being hit or cut by debris, as well as ailments that developed after the storm due to a lack of sanitary conditions. He also cared for patients with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, and his team performed health checks for home-bound elderly patients.

“I couldn’t imagine a greater opportunity than being able to return to my place of birth and provide lifesaving medical care,” he says. “When I revealed to patients that I was actually born in Dominica and had returned as part of this team to help provide medical assistance, they were thankful and overjoyed.”

Birmingham was one of three UConn Health emergency medicine physicians who traveled to five different Caribbean islands, including Dominica, to help out at various times this fall.

“I am very proud of our team members who traveled to hurricane-ravaged Caribbean islands this fall,” said Dr. Robert Fuller, chair of UConn Health’s Department of Emergency Medicine, who assisted in the post-hurricane relief effort in Puerto Rico. “Their spirit of generosity and service is inspiring as we head into the holiday season.”

This holiday season, Birmingham is urging the public to give monetary donations to support those who were hard-hit by the hurricane, to help rebuild damaged infrastructure and increase the availability of medical care.

“Money is the key to obtaining more resources and to helping the island improve its struggling economy,” Birmingham says. “I know my beautiful island of Dominica will get back to normal soon, but it’s going to take some time, lots of hard work, and the assistance of others’ generous help and giving.”