October 2, 2001

Cornell Medical Staff Offers Aid to Victims

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In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 World Trade Center collapse, members of the Cornell community offered their services to the ongoing rescue efforts in New York City.

The medical staff at the Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College treated victims of the attack while Dr. Nishi Dhupa, director of emergency and critical care at the Cornell Hospital for Animals, offered her services.

“The medical school is fully engaged [in the rescue operations] and both [New York-Cornell Hospital and the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital] are providing relief support for the victims of the incident,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

In a public response to the World Trade Center disaster, Dr. Antonio M. Gotto, Jr., dean of the medical school and provost for University medical affairs, said that immediately after learning of the terrorist attack, the hospitals and medical school implemented a disaster plan.

“[We had] one goal in mind: to do everything in our power to save as many lives as possible and help the disaster victims who needed our care,” Gotto said.

According to Gotto, three of the medical school’s paramedic workers were among the hundreds killed when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

“It was with bitter disappointment in the days following that we and the entire city learned that the number of injured survivors would be very small compared to the thousands of people who did not make it out of the World Trade Center towers,” he said. “Tragically, three of the victims were members of the paramedic service at this medical center. They were among hundreds of dedicated firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel who risked their lives to save the lives of others.”

The medical school’s Burn Center has received 25 patients with the most severe burn and inhalation injuries, according to Gotto. Twenty-one patients remain in critical condition and four have died.

“Despite our disappointment in not being able to help more of the victims of the disaster, the faculty, staff, and students of Weill Cornell should take pride in the way they responded to the emergency,” Gotto said.

“Everyone wanted to be able to do something to help, and everyone wanted to do more. But, unfortunately, there just wasn’t any more that could be done in a situation like this.”

Gotto added that it will take a long time for the Weill Cornell community to return to normal following the horrific events that have overwhelmed its city.

“Getting back to ‘normal’ will be a difficult process after the events we have experienced,” he said. “But we have shown our resilience in the face of tremendous adversity and our dedication to our mission of service.”

While doctors working at the medical school in Manhattan faced disaster victims as the tragedy unfolded, and other teams treated rescue workers, Dhupa volunteered to travel to New York City from Ithaca to treat the smaller, furrier heroes of the relief efforts.

While working for the V-MAT — whose station was located a couple of blocks from ground zero — Dhupa treated rescue dogs for eye irritations, foot pad irritations, bruises, cuts and dehydration, she said.

The dogs, which are certified for search and rescue, work with their handlers to try to find survivors and deceased victims, Dhupa said. The dogs search through mounds of dust and debris, much of which is structurally unstable, and in spaces too small for their human handlers to go, to pick up a scent of a human or human remains. During the long shifts at ground zero, dogs can dehydrate and suffer from other types of exposure.

“The handlers would bring their dogs to the unit at the end of their shifts, to be evaluated and to have their eyes and foot pads checked,” Dhupa said.

Dhupa brought supplies with her from the vet school to treat the dogs, including eyewashes, antibiotics and intravenous fluids. “Many were healthy. [But] we also did help sick/injured dogs,” Dhupa said.

Dhupa explained that the highly-trained dogs are often vital in a rescue effort, and detailed the obstacles they must overcome. “They have to be very focused as they often work in noisy, distracting environments. They live with their handlers, and there is a very strong bond apparent between dogs and handlers.”

Dhupa added that the dogs helped in a subtler way as well, by serving as sources relief amid the tense atmosphere.

“Their presence created a positive feeling. It gave the rescue workers a chance to ‘de-stress’ in a very difficult environment.”

A specialist in emergency veterinary care at disaster scenes, Dhupa went to New York City after the College of Veterinary Medicine received a request for a certified emergency/critical care specialist to go to the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team (V-MAT) station.

According to Jeri Wall, associate director of communications for the vet school, no Cornell veterinary students participated in the care of animals at the World Trade Center site.

“Dr. Dhupa was the sole representative from the college in the effort,” she


During her time aiding the rescue dogs, Dhupa noted that the New York City she visited seemed unified and optimistic despite the horrible events that occurred on Sept. 11.

“The city is very positive and overlying the sadness is a feeling of strength and togetherness which is apparent everywhere,” she said.

Dhupa said her most memorable experience while working for the V-MAT was “the awareness of the strong feeling of unity amongst an incredibly diverse group of people. Everyone was shaken, but very focused and strong. People opened their hearts, their stores and their homes,” Dhupa said.

Archived article by Stephanie Hankin