By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
ATLANTA -- After treating more than 500 patients injured in Haiti's massive earthquake and its aftermath, disaster medical teams from New England returned safely to US soil this afternoon.
The medical workers will spend the night in Atlanta, decompressing from their often heartbreaking duties, before returning to Boston.
About three dozen members of the Massachusetts-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team and 16 from the International Medical Surgical Response Team boarded a charter flight shortly after 10 a.m. at Port-au-Prince's airport. They landed -- to clapping and cheers in the cabin -- at 1:20 p.m. in Atlanta. Members of disaster medical teams from California were also aboard the flight.
The medical workers dispensed care for a week from a field hospital established in a school courtyard, witnessing the human toll exacted by the earthquake that destroyed whole swaths of Haiti's capital city. They repaired those limbs they could, amputated those they couldn’t, salved deep wounds -- and also delivered a number of babies.
Their return to the United States marked the end of an odyssey that began Jan. 14 with their departure and included frustrating delays waiting for supplies and, then, security to accompany the cache and protect the field hospital.
On Sunday, a new squad of medical workers who belong to the International Medical Surgical Response Team arrived in Port-au-Prince, led by Dr. Susan Briggs, the Massachusetts General Hospital physician known globally for her work in disaster medicine. Briggs arrived with an elite corps of 13 surgeons and other health workers who will keep the field hospital running around the clock.
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