Local doctor hopes to assist with mental health in aftermath of Ecuador earthquake

Local doctor hopes to assist with mental health in aftermath of Ecuador earthquake

Two months after an earthquake ripped through Ecuador’s coast, doctors in the area are focusing on more than physical wounds.

David Gaus is a Wisconsin native and doctor who has spent years in Ecuador, which is his wife’s native country.

About 15 years ago, the couple built hospitals along the coast, one of them is 80 miles from the epicenter of April’s earthquake.

“That hospital somehow suffered no structural damage, while a number of other hospitals closer to the epicenter either collapsed completely or were rendered unusable,” Gaus said.

He immediately flew to the country to help his hospital handle the influx of patients with open wounds and infections. Now back in Madison, Gaus and his family are planning a more permanent return to Ecuador, but the focus now is on mental health.

“After there’s a natural disaster such as an earthquake, there’s a lot of mental health problems that are a consequence of that,” he said.

The added stress could also lead to higher heart attack and cancer levels, according to Gaus.

He said the area has only one psychiatrist and three psychologists for the roughly 600,000-person population, so he’s training family physicians at his hospital to pick up the slack.

“We know a fair amount about the community. It’s an all Ecuadorian-run organization, so I think we’re in a good position to make a contribution,” he said.