Servant Leader of Atrium Health David Callaway, MD, Head of Crisis Operations and Sustainability, recently traveled to Ukraine to provide much-needed medical care and assistance to fleeing refugees and people displaced from their homes.
Having served in war zones around the world, serving those in need in Ukraine has had a particularly profound impact on Dr. Callaway, who is a husband and father of two daughters. He remembers a time when he hid in an air-raid shelter one night, when a mother came running in, clutching a screaming and crying young child.
“I was like, ‘What must it be like for this 5-year-old kid who three weeks ago was in kindergarten, eating snacks, going to school with his friends, playing in the playground, was coming home… and now has been ripped out of his house; his mother stays in a dorm and rushes into a bomb shelter in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Callaway.
This is the sad reality for the approximately 6.5 to 7 million people who have been internally displaced within Ukraine’s borders and an additional 4 million who have crossed international borders as refugees.
Dr. Callaway, a U.S. Army veteran, is also the chief medical officer for Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that includes a team of emergency care providers who help with emergency relief in areas affected and in crisis all over the world. The Rubicon team has partnered with Atrium Health since 2015.
In early March, Dr. Callaway deployed with the Rubicon team to western Ukraine, Poland and Hungary, to assess medical needs and build relationships with local governments and health systems in these crisis areas. The team coordinated its deployment with the World Health Organization, its representatives in Ukraine and the – integrating language interpreters and local representatives into their response team to better understand the needs and culture of the populations they they served.
“It is essential that whenever we operate in another country, we work hand in hand with the local health systems to ensure that we are caring for the population in the most effective way,” says Dr Callaway .
Faced with a complex and dynamic environment where hospitals, shelters and schools were targeted and threats were constantly changing, Dr. Callaway and his team provided safe and mobile medical care to internally displaced people. Ukraine or refugees who had fled the country – mainly women, children and the elderly. The self-sufficient medical team can treat 100 patients a day for two weeks without needing to restock.
“When you have over 10 million displaced people, it starts to strain the health system,” says Dr Callaway. He added that the most critical part of the experience was providing care and emotional support to the displaced population.
Although Dr. Callaway himself has returned to North Carolina, Team Rubicon members remain in Ukraine – serving the region for up to 90 days. He says the region will continue to face humanitarian challenges associated with the risk of infectious diseases and various types of vulnerabilities, particularly of women and children who have been displaced.
His work with Team Rubicon gives Dr. Callaway a sense of pride and community. He says much of how trauma care is provided on the battlefield directly influences the emergency medical care provided here at Atrium Health.
“A lot of the protocols that we use at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in the trauma room were actually lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Dr. Callaway. “This exposure, experience and knowledge has direct implications for protecting our community here in Charlotte.”