Nurse heads to earthquake-wracked Ecuador (April 28, 2016)

Written by Jennifer Thuncher

Published by The Squamish Chief on Thursday, April 28, 2016

Squamish’s Ian MacKay is putting his nurse training to work to help quake victims in Ecuador. 

The country was wracked with a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, centered 27 kilometres southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, on April 16. 

The aftershocks have continued for more than a week since the first quake. 

The quake killed upwards of 500 people, including four Canadians, injured thousands and devastated buildings and homes, according to reports.

“We are trying to mobilize to the hardest-hit areas, so trying to get out of the cities and more into the remote villages that were hardest hit, and that is where we are planning on setting up our field hospital,” MacKay said in an interview with The Squamish Chief while on his way to the airport April 19.

MacKay is part of a Disaster Assistance Response Team from the Christian international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. The field hospital will be set up on the west coast of Ecuador in Chone, which has a population of approximately 120,000.

The group will focus on immediate life-saving interventions including medical care, emergency water and emergency shelter, according to a Samaritan’s Purse spokesperson.

“Going into these situations, it is just sort of: ‘Expect the unexpected,’” MacKay said. “That is the attitude or mentality to go into these things with, because you really don’t know what to expect, and we always get hit with a few curveballs.” 

The deployment is scheduled to last only three weeks in order to maintain the psychological and physical health of the team, MacKay said, noting he has offered to go back again. 

“I am open to staying longer if I can,” he added. 

Rushing to disaster is nothing new for MacKay; this is his sixth disaster relief deployment.

He first went to Haiti about six years ago to help victims after an earthquake there. He has also been to the Eastern Congo to help people fleeing from war, to the Philippines after the typhoon and to Liberia during the Ebola outbreak, and he spent Christmas in Greece helping Syrian refugees, he said. 

As to why MacKay leaves his comfy Squamish home and job as a nurse at Lions Gate Hospital to rush to danger, MacKay said he isn’t exactly sure why he feels the need to go and help. 

“That is a tough one to ask me,” he said.  “Honestly, I can’t give you a firm answer. It is who I am and how I was raised.”

MacKay’s mother is a nurse. His uncle is a doctor on Vancouver Island who will be joining him in Ecuador; they also worked together in Haiti on earthquake relief. 

What surprises MacKay is how little publicity has been given to the Ecuador earthquake and the need for help, given the extent of the damage.

“A lot of people still think that I am going on vacation,” he said, adding that the magnitude 7.0 quake in Japan on the same day seemed to overshadow the need in Ecuador. 

“It is not in the media, for some reason, and it is strange… there’s a lot of suffering going on in Ecuador right now, and people aren’t aware of it and don’t want to be aware of it. They want to stay in their bubble.”

To donate to the relief fund go to SamaritansPurse.ca

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