South American is a popular spot for Israeli tourists, but a team of a different kind of Israelis returned last week from Santiago, where trauma specialists from the Rambam Medical Center trained Chile medics how to cope with mass casualty events such as this year’s massive quake.

The Teaching Center for Trauma Emergency and Mass Casualty Situations at Rambam shared life-saving knowledge and experience with 300 medical personnel, among them senior members of Chile’s air and ground forces and representatives of its rescue units and police force. News of the Israeli delegation spread, and 12 doctors and nurses from Paraguay also showed up.

Chile was hit four months ago by a powerful earthquake that registered 8.8 on the Richter scale and which was followed by a tsunami at the country’s southern coast, causing enormous damage. Residents of the area are still coping with the aftermath of the catastrophe, which destroyed entire areas and caused the collapse of numerous buildings.

Ironically, the Rambam team had been invited to lead the course more than half a year ago. The disaster revealed a lack of preparedness on the part of many Chilean bodies to handle mass casualty events, and the need for Israeli know-how and  experience became all the more critical.

The course was initiated by Dr. Alfredo Mizrahi, a Jewish Chilean physician who works in Las Condes Hospital in Santiago. Dr. Mizrahi, a long-time friend of Rambam, initiated the first such course in Chile two years ago, on organizing a trauma center.

The recent course, held under the auspices of the Jewish community, included lectures and workshops under the direction of three Rambam representatives who led the delegation. "The response was incredible -- the participants were hungry for knowledge. They didn’t stop showing interest and asking questions, and at the end of the course we received many offers for cooperation and requests for additional courses,” said Dr. Moshe Michaelson, director of the Trauma Unit.  

A day before the course began, the delegation toured the tsunami disaster site, which is being renewed, in large part, with the support of Chile’s 15,000-member Jewish community. The community also donated two ambulances that were dedicated at a ceremony in the presence of the Israeli delegation members.

“The pictures here are very difficult,” said Gila Hyams, head of the Teaching Center for Trauma and Mass Casualty Situations. “Four months after the disaster there is still damage everywhere. Where hospitals once stood, there are now tents.”

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