Rangjung Yeshe Institute student and former US army squad medic Shane Basse from Portland, Oregon called in at our makeshift office to tell us that he’d managed to track down and assist little Khandro, a critically injured 12-year old whom he’d helped evacuate by helicopter from the Yolmo village of Jatan, above Melamchi Bazaar.
He’d followed the packed chopper down by jeep, along with as many of the relatives as could cram in. He wanted to do all in his power to help ensure the survival of little Khandro, who he knew was just hours from death.
Once in Kathmandu, it had taken a search of 14 hours non-stop, round hospitals, military bases and the airport, but eventually he found her at Bir Hospital.
Khandro’s leg had been amputated and she would survive, and after giving us his report Shane was planning to head back up to the village to tell her father that his daughter would be alright, and that the cost of her treatment and her prosthetic leg would be covered through the generosity of Handicap International.
This brave father had helped Shane carry his daughter down on a bamboo stretcher to an evacuation point, but had declined to go with her to Kathmandu. Instead, he entrusted her to the care of her aunt and uncle (who were accompanying her cousin, their six-year old daughter Gyalmo, also badly injured). He was anxious to locate his mother’s body. His wife, Khandro’s mother, had already died in the quake.
The story started the previous day, when Shane and the rest of our team arrived in the village, 72 hours after the first earthquake struck. They were met by a scene of utter devastation, total desolation. There were only two houses left standing. There were eighty survivors (out of a population of “a few hundred”) and none of the bodies had been cremated or even moved from where they had fallen. The survivors were just sitting together in hopelessness and shock. Many of them had terrible injuries. Not a single person there knew what to do. The stench from the decomposing bodies was almost unbearable. The second-last standing house collapsed moments after the team arrived.
Shane described trying to “jolt them awake,” to rouse at least some of them from their shock and get them moving. He could see the vast scale of the injuries, the huge open head wounds already badly infected and thick with yellow pus. It was clear that they were running out of time and that many of the injured needed to get to hospital. But these devastated people simply couldn’t grasp the urgency in his words, or the danger they were in if they didn’t get themselves off the mountain. They kept saying they were fine just waiting as they were for the helicopter that they were sure would soon come.
Eventually, as they watched our volunteers get to work, splitting into two teams – one building bamboo stretchers and the other treating the casualties in what quickly became a field clinic – some of the able bodied villagers slowly began to recover their sense of survival and engage in what was happening.
As Shane and others set off down the mountain towards the military helipad, carrying the three most critically injured (all of them children) on stretchers between them, the villagers began to follow suit. All those who needed to get to hospital were carried down in the same way.
Once at the helipad, with time running and Khandro’s life hanging in the balance, they waited for three helpless hours – a large crowd watching military helicopters flying by in rapid succession, all their injured in critical condition.
Finally an official turned up in a jeep and started shouting orders. Shane asked him who he was and – once he learned that he was the local MP and these his constituents – he took him straight over to where Khandro lay and introduced her as his most critically injured constituent.
This seemed to have a magical effect. The MP took one look at Khandro, barked an order to the lieutenant colonel at his side and pointed up at the closest military helicopter. It took just a brief command via walkie talkie and the chopper turned right round as they watched, coming in to land beside them. All those needing immediate evacuation got safely away, mission accomplished.
Shane has gone back up from Kathmandu to the village, to find Khandro’s father. The mission became personal for him, with little Khandro, and he wants to make sure that her family is alright. He wants to counter the hopelessness. He speaks in terms of supporting Khandro’s future. He wants to raise money for the rebuilding of homes in the village. He is also thinking about delivering a little first aid and sanitation training in the village before he moves on to help out somewhere else.
A first year student in Buddhist Studies at Rangjung Yeshe Institute, Shane has also studied theology and philosophy in the past, on and off, but he was saying that it was his military training and his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan that prepared him for what needed to be done. He was deeply grateful to be equipped to help. And we have heard from others in the team that he stepped up to the task magnificently.