Providence doctor helps refugees in Poland

Since returning to his job as an emergency physician at Providence Portland Medical Center in northeast Portland, Dr. Joseph Howton says he’s more stressed now than he was in Poland, helping exhausted Ukrainian refugees and grieving there.

Howton sent an oversized suitcase full of medical supplies to Poland on March 10 and, once there, worked with a translator to help displaced Ukrainians.

“I had a burning desire to help however I could,” Howton said.

He was often frustrated. Hospitals would not allow him to practice medicine as he was not certified in Poland.

He thought about going to kyiv, having learned that there was always a need on the front line and that there were no bureaucratic barriers.

“My family would have killed me,” he said ruefully.

Still, Howton could help triage patients in impromptu clinics that have sprung up in Polish sporting arenas.

And he discovered other ways to help — ways that ordinary Oregonians can support too. “I found that I could do a lot of things from the States,” Howton said.

There is a continuous need for operating room equipment in Ukraine, especially equipment for orthopedic and trauma surgery. Howton mentions external fixation rods (for broken or severely fractured bones) and pulse irrigation systems for wound irrigation and suction wound cleansing.

“In Warsaw everything was complete,” he said.

Howton works with groups who buy the equipment in the United States and ship it directly to Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

“You bring it in your luggage,” Howton explained, adding that airlines have waived fees on such luggage.

Howton personally purchased the supplies he took with him, but Providence Health and Services donated supplies to Tigard-based Medical Teams International, which worked with the Ukrainian American Cultural Association of Oregon and Washington, a group non-profit based in Beaverton, to get bandages, sutures, surgical kits and more in Ukraine.

Dr. Kyle Varner, a doctor from Providence Spokane, flew with medical supplies to Poland in March. Providence donated these supplies.

Howton is also considering returning to Eastern Europe, perhaps this time to Lviv in western Ukraine, where he may be able to work as a doctor.

He heard horrifying tales from refugees in Poland of Russian brutality – a contrast to the early days of the war, when many Russian invaders seemed unwilling to kill their neighbors, having not been told at all that they going to Ukraine or being told that they would be welcomed as liberators.

Photos, testimonies and evidence of torture, murder, rape and other brutal war crimes from Bucha and other Ukrainian towns liberated from the Russian military came as no surprise to Howton.

“That’s what I was hearing from people,” he said, “that the Russians would go into the bomb shelters and the machine guns. The people who were hiding in the churches were killed. And the Russians have particularly targeted hospitals, medical personnel and facilities. »

As of April 6, the World Health Organization has reviewed and verified 91 attacks since February 24 against healthcare infrastructure in Ukraine, more than two per day. The WHO has also collected information on the abduction of staff members and patients.

“Ukrainians are puzzled as to why the Russians are there,” Howton said.

Having had the chance to see the damage of the war up close, he came to his own conclusions about politics.

“I was at first very in tune with the caution of NATO,” he said. “It has changed for me. We need to be much more assertive. I’m not saying we should put American boots on the pitch, but there’s a lot more we can do. We can fight them now or later.

To help — a group that sends medical supplies to Ukraine — Medical Teams International, based in Tigard

In Poland, Howton also came into contact with a Polish nonprofit, From the Border to the Flat — Od Granicy Do Mieszkania (online at He met its founder, Kuba Lang, who transformed his IT company into a non-profit organization serving Ukrainian refugees (90% of whom are women and children), putting all his employees to work transporting refugees to the houses they found, avoiding crowded stadiums. .

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