Tag Archives: Earthquake

Physiotherapist, Professor and Global Rescue Worker Mike Landry

9 Jul

Lunch with Mary 054 Date of lunch:
Friday, July 8, 2011

The company:
Mike Landry is a physiotherapist, professor at University of Toronto (soon to be chair at Duke University) and a 15 year veteran of global rescue missions. I was listening to my fave, CBC Dispatches, and heard a story by Mike Landry about his original mission to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. He spoke about the work he did to help those with spinal cord injuries as a result of the earthquake and subsequent recovery effort. He then went back several months later to check on the progress of his patients and what he discovered led him to ask some very difficult questions about the responsibility of aid. When does it start? When does it end? I found the story very thought provoking and wanted to hear from Mike himself. In one of my fastest arranged lunches in history – I listened to the podcast on Sunday, Googled Mike Landry and emailed him on Monday and we had lunch on Friday. It was a fascinating conversation.

The food:
Mike and I ate at Café La Gaffe on Baldwin Street. I have never been on Baldwin Street on a beautiful afternoon and the patios were bustling. It’s one of those great hidden spots in Toronto. I had the Mediterranean vegetable pizza with salad and Mike had the risotto special with salad. We both drank water. The portions were huge, which I always appreciate. I did find the pizza a bit difficult to cut through but it was still great, tons of feta cheese! Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Mike talked to me about the type of person that is able to go on these global aid missions and was very clear that it is not for everyone. The images he sees are not something that he can forget and he said that every aid worker must have some amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he can’t even fully discuss what he sees and does with all people because it is too difficult for them to hear. What really got to me was that Mike and his colleagues choose to put themselves in these positions. But what about those that live there and have no choice but to see the devastation day in and day out? It’s hard to imagine what that must be like and that thought has really stuck with me since our lunch.

The lunch:
Ever since I was young, I had an understanding that there were people in other parts of the world that had far less than I did and, like many other in my shoes, had this drive to do something to help. But the problem is, what do you do and how can you help? Mike Landry first felt this feeling when he watched Live Aid as a child and the drive did not go away. For over 15 years, he has been going to areas all over the world and helping out.

I asked him if he was ever scared and he told me he never was until recently, when he had children. When he first saw the images coming back from Haiti after the earthquake, he decided he couldn’t go this time. His daughter was very young and he didn’t want to put himself at risk. Mike told me he was able to hold himself from going for a week and then he just had to go. Once he knew he was going, he was in Haiti within a couple of days.

In Haiti, Mike helped those that were suffering from spinal cord injuries. He said many of these people had pulled themselves, with very serious injuries, out of the rubble on their own. Others had fallen while working to help rescue others and clear rubble. Not that many years ago, these people never would have survived – these injuries would have meant certain death. But Mike and the rest of the team in Haiti were able to help them. Many of those they saved are now able to have some level of mobility.

A few months after the earthquake, Mike returned to Haiti to check back in on his patients and help them return home. To this day, rubble still covers the streets of Haiti and it is shocking to see. For someone with mobility issues, it is very difficult to get around.

He brought one woman, who is paralyzed, to her home that was so difficult to access that they could not even bring her to her home on her wheelchair and instead had to carry her to her home on a stretcher. Once home, Mike wondered whether she’d ever be able to leave. And these are the questions that now haunt Mike and many other aid workers. They saved these lives but now what? How can the massive global aid dollars respond appropriately to help these survivors and communities? I, of course, do not have the answers but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. The funding is there but it’s far more complicated than simply spending money.

Mike is about to embark on a new adventure at Duke University and will teach physiotherapy students who will continue the work that Mike does now. With advances in medicine, there is the opportunity to save so many more lives than before. It is my hope that long term aid will be part of the solution and will address quality of life. With someone as committed as Mike championing this cause, I believe we’re on the right track.

*NOTE: Mike is working on a documentary about his work and the people he has helped in Haiti and I will link to it once the site is live. Stay tuned for an update.

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Seismologist Dr. Qinya Liu

21 Jan

Lunch with Mary 028

Date of lunch:
Thursday, January 21, 2010

The company:
Dr. Qinya Liu is a professor of seismology and earthquake sciences at the University of Toronto. She is originally from China but did her PhD at Cal Tech and her post-doc in San Diego. After the devastation in Haiti, I was hoping to learn a little more about how and why earthquakes happen, what we can do to prepare and whether we will ever be able to predict them. Qinya is incredibly friendly and very good at explaining pretty complicated science in easy language for me to understand. It was a fascinating lunch.

The food:
We ate at Midi Bistro on McCaul Street in the Baldwin Village area of restaurants. I have never been there before but I will definitely be back. I had the Farmer Salad, which was kind of cheating in the “salad” area because it had bacon in it and was covered in cheese. Qinya had the salmon quiche with a side salad and fries. We both drank water. My salad was so so tasty. I want to eat one again right now. Total bill was $23 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Qinya explained a lot to me about tectonic plates and how it is the fault lines between these plates that are the most dangerous. She explained two pretty interesting things about areas where these plates meet. One that we all know well is the San Andreas fault, which runs through California and it is where the North American Plate meets the Pacific Plate. With these two plates constantly pushing against each other, the Earth is shifting at an average of 4cm a year. This means that in 10 million years, San Francisco will be at the same longitude as Los Angeles. The second area is the Himalayas. This is where the Indian Plate meets the Eurasia Plate. These mountains are caused by these two plates hitting each other and the mountains continue to get higher. Who knew?

The lunch:
The devastating 7.0 earthquake in Haiti was caused by one of these major faults. The Caribbean region is actually quite dangerous for earthquakes as the Caribbean Plate meets the North American Plate. The most simple way to explain these quakes, as Qinya patiently and graciously explained to me, is that these plates are constantly pushing against each other and it is not two smooth surfaces rubbing together. Eventually there is a shift.

For smaller, in the area of 5.0 earthquakes, that I remember feeling in Ottawa growing up, Qinya says those are from smaller fault lines likely caused by old tectonic activities that cover the entire surface of the Earth. Although these quakes happen, they are less likely to cause the destruction that we are seeing on our TVs a lot these days.

In terms of predicting future quakes, Qinya told me that it depends on how you define “predict”. It is still impossible to predict exactly when an earthquake will hit. But there is science and research that can determine areas that are likely to get hit and an approximate timeframe when it is bound to happen. These predictions would be something like “an earthquake of X magnitude is likely to hit Y in the next Z years”. Although knowing this does not help people to be outdoors in the exact moment that a quake hits, it does help to know these possibilities.

Qinya explained that in places such as Vancouver that sit between three plates: the North American Plate, the Juan de Fuca Plate and the Pacific Plate, because people know an earthquake can happen, certain building codes are in place to make the area safer.

Qinya said that the best way to be prepared in the long term for an earthquake is to build safe buildings, bridges and infrastructure and, in the short term, is to know what to do when an earthquake hits, such as hiding under a table or in a doorway. But there is still so much that is unpredictable, such as where the epicenter of the quake falls and how far below the surface of the earth it occurs. The closer to the epicenter and the closer to the surface – the stronger it is.

I might not be able to explain this part exactly as Qinya explained to me, but the Earth is all connected and these movements and shifts travel throughout the Earth. So last week when Haiti shook, with the proper and sensitive equipment, that quake was felt here, and across the globe. This is a big part of what Qinya researches and the applications that come from this.

It was really interesting to speak with Qinya and learn so much about something I really knew little about. She has a really great way of explaining things and I want to learn even more.

Although our conversation was very much based in science and fact, it’s hard to even find the words for what this “science” is capable of doing. I just want to end off with a quick link to two very worthy organizations – Doctors without Borders and the Canadian Red Cross – both accepting donations to help Haiti, no matter how small, and both doing very important work on the ground.