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CHOMP surgeon shares his experience helping earthquake victims in Turkey

MONTEREY, Calif. (KION-TV)- It has been over a month since a devastating earthquake in Turkey killed 46,000 people.

Dr. Ed Gamboa, a general surgeon at the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula, spent a week in Turkey helping treat as many victims as possible.

"You just don't think about it," Gamboa said. "You're there to help out, and that's the main situation."

This is not Gamboa's first time helping out during an international disaster. His first mission was in 2010 when he treated injured victims of the Haiti Earthquake. His second mission was helping out victims due to the Russia-Ukraine war that started in 2022.

Gamboa volunteered for a group called International Medical Relief which is based in Denver. The group is an international non-government organization that provides health care to vulnerable and under-served populations. They also provide disaster response with first responder medical teams that provide immediate healthcare.

Group photo of the International Medical Relief team helping out in Turkey

He was mainly treating and providing healthcare for victims near the Turkey-Syria border. He knew the risks of going over there but credited the International Medical Relief for having boots already on the ground.

"You are not going to go there and risk yourself," Gamboa said. "Be careful of obvious dangers, but you can cope with it second hand because your purpose there is basically to help out."

Doctors and nurses who made the trek over had to bring their thermal sleeping bags and some of their food.

International Medical Relief did supply tents and supplies to make the medical personnel feel safe on site.

Gamboa flew into Istanbul and took another three-hour flight to Adana. A driver did meet Gamboa's traveling group in Adana, where they drove another five hours to the site they were working at.

Thank you sign at the Istanbul Airport, Photo courtesy of Dr. Ed Gamboa.

Once there, Gamboa was stationed at an eight-story hospital and immediately started treating patients in the emergency room.

The hospital's pharmacy was turned into a makeshift emergency room with nine beds. Gamboa was treating a four-year-old child who had cut her wrist from broken glass. His team stopped the bleeding when a second earthquake shook the hospital.

"The local people knew what was going on because this was a big one," Gamboa said. "We all scrambled out of the building, and the local coordinator scooped up the child as we all ran out."

Luckily, Gamboa was on the ground floor and could escape with patients and other medical staff.

However, the surrounding buildings and part of the hospital collapsed. Gamboa said it felt like a movie when he tried to escape the hospital.

"I was in slow motion to just get out of the building and sort of suddenly realize that there was it was something serious and hopefully it didn't happen again," Gamboa said.

Gamboa was also able to treat some of the rescuers as well. He almost delivered a couple of babies near the tents that were set up.

"They all came in because that was their closest place," Gamboa said. "We actually had an ultrasound conducted, and we were able to send the mother to the nearest hospital."

Gamboa says he is still unsure if he will return. It depends on how the recovery process goes in Turkey. He gets weekly updates from the International Medical Relief group, and depending on severe circumstances, he would want to go back.

"Like Mother Teresa used to say, It's a drop in the ocean," Gamboa said. "People are always grateful for what you do, whether it's a small thing as putting on a band-aid or treating a major infection."

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Derrick Ow

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