Kellie Leitch lends healing hand to Nepal earthquake victims

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch is in Nepal - not as a representative of the government, but in her other role as a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, paying her own way to help victims of the recent earthquakes.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon turned politician visits devastated region

Cabinet minister and doctor Kellie Leitch, right, helps wrap the ankle of a Nepalese woman who sprained it while trying to clear debris from her earthquake-damaged home. (Kellie Leitch)

She waited weeks to find the time to go and to get permission from her boss, who just happens to be the prime minister.

But when Kellie Leitch, Canada's minister of labour, finally made it to Nepal after a day of travel, she hit the ground running.

The Ontario MP isn't there as a representative of the government, but rather as a doctor, paying her own way to help victims of the recent earthquakes.

Leitch is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and when she saw the devastation of the earthquakes in Nepal she felt compelled to go, but she admits she was perhaps unprepared for what she would see.

"You'd have to be here to understand the [severity] of what has happened," Leitch said on an international call from inside a tent in the small town of Dhunche, Nepal.

Leitch described the five-hour drive to the small border town from the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu as devastating: seeing the consequences of ongoing landslides occurring weeks after the region's second earthquake, whole towns wiped out and, Thursday, even a funeral for one of the estimated 8,700 people killed.

Canada's Disaster Assistance Relief team has been helping to clear roads in Dhunche, Nepal, north of Kathmandu. (Kellie Leitch)

But Leitch is there to do more than observe, she also wants to help. She is travelling with the Canadian Red Cross, camping out in tents and offering advice.

She has been impressed by what the people there are doing to make sure the injured get the care they need.

In Dhunche, six of the seven hospital buildings were destroyed, and with concerns about cleanliness, the town's general surgeon took the last standing building and set up a tent inside to keep the environment sterile.

Local doctors were forced to set up a tent inside the only remaining hospital building still standing in Dhunche, Nepal to maintain a sterile environment. (Kellie Leitch)

The surgeon also asked Leitch to consult on the case of a seven-year-old boy, who was swept up by a landslide, his elbow broken for more than a week and his family unable to pay to get him to Kathmandu for medical help.

"Getting to Kathmandu would take more than a year's salary for his family," said Leitch. "Hopefully we can fix him with a cast or a minor operation and he and his family won't have to go. And that's pretty gratifying." 

Leitch said the people are resilient.

At the orthopedic hospital in Kathmandu, the Canadian Disaster and Assistance Response team have set up a makeshift tent with 100 beds on the lawn.

There, local doctors have managed to treat 270 patients in two weeks. Leitch points out in her regular practice in Canada she would have treated 450 in a year.

"They've been so so impressive," said Leitch, who still practices medicine in her non-political hours

Work is underway clearing the devastation in Nepal after two earthquakes. (Kellie Leitch)

The DART team is expected to pull out of Nepal on Friday, Leitch said, so she also made sure to deliver thanks on behalf of the Canadian government.

The main hope, Leitch said, is to see the country back on its feet and "the kids out playing again."


Rosemary Barton is CBC's Chief Political Correspondent, based in Ottawa.


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