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David Geffen School of Medicine

Humanitarian Medicine 101

July 29, 2003 Dear Mom, I won’t be sending you this letter. Some things are too difficult to share. I watch them die every day and feel helpless to stop it. I’m in over my head – it’s as simple as that. I thought I was prepared, but not for this. How could I have been? What am I doing here? I can only ask myself. There is so much suffering, and I make so little difference. What should we do amidst so much pain? Give up? Give in? Go home?

MedMagSpring10-Dr. Ross Donladson (right center) THIS JOURNAL ENTRY was written by Ross I. Donaldson, M.D. ’04, the summer before his fourth year of medical school at UCLA. He was in Sierra Leone, in West Africa, where he had gone to care for patients with hemorrhagic Lassa fever. “I knew my trip was risky, but the mix of danger and adventure surrounding the mysterious virus compelled me toward it,” Dr. Donaldson recounts. “The Lassa ward had meager supplies and a never-ending onslaught of the sick inundating the hospital. I had studied in medical school to swear an oath to care for the sick. Ultimately, I found myself not only fighting for their lives, but also my own.”

When the young doctor-in-training returned to UCLA, he experienced a sudden change in health; he was diagnosed with myocarditis from some unknown infection. It took him about seven months to recuperate.

Dr. Donaldson’s experience in Sierra Leon, and his own close call with a life-threatening illness after he returned, did not dampen his passion for humanitarian medicine, and he now is an assistant clinical professor of medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the Global Health Program and Fellowship in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. He also is director of emergency medical care for International Medical Corps (IMC), and travels frequently to Iraq.

In 2009, he published The Lassa Ward: One Man’s Fight Against One of the World’s Deadliest Diseases (St. Martin’s Press).


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