Alaskan survives Haiti quake

Woman 'thankful to be alive' despite losing part of her right leg

Posted: Friday, January 15, 2010

MIAMI - It took Christa Brelsford's brother and their friends nearly an hour and a half to dig her from the debris after Haiti's powerful quake, her legs trapped by rubble when a building collapsed. But Brelsford is glad to be alive, even though her right leg had to be amputated below the knee.

J. Pat Carter / The Associated Press
J. Pat Carter / The Associated Press

Brelsford was volunteering in Dabonne, south of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on an 11-day program to teach adult and child literacy when the quake hit. Airlifted to a South Florida hospital, she told reporters Thursday that she was running down some stairs when she slipped and fell as the building gave way. Her brother frantically began digging, pulling her free.

Brelsford was among 11 injured survivors from Haiti flown to the University of Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital on Wednesday. Mark McKenney, a trauma surgeon, said UM and other hospitals across South Florida were bracing for the airlift of more victims.

"This is very likely the worst natural disaster in the Western Hemisphere in decades," he said.

UM has dispatched doctors and other medical teams to Haiti, and is setting up a telemedicine program with a satellite connection to help physicians in Haiti better triage patients, he said.

"They are coming in waves; I don't know whether there will be five waves or a hundred waves," he said of the injured.

Brelsford, a student at Arizona State University who grew up in Alaska, said she is thankful to be alive. She was transported to a United Nations peacekeeping base, where she slept on the floor with about 100 other Haitian and American survivors. Eventually she was flown to the hospital where her right leg was amputated.

"I am so thankful to be alive, there are so many ways in the past two days that I could have been dead. I'm just thankful that I'm not," said Brelsford.

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