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Dreaming Big

How Samaritan’s Purse transformed an empty field in Ecuador into a fully functioning hospital

Story by Samaritan’s Purse June 22nd, 2016

In the wake of a disaster, the speed of a response often means the difference between life and death. Samaritan’s Purse maintains a constant state of readiness so that when disasters strike, we can immediately mobilize a response team and bring life-saving care and supplies to those in need.

As an organization, we are always looking for ways to improve our response time and meet more needs than ever before.

On April 16, when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northern coast of Ecuador, Samaritan’s Purse was prepared to respond.

"We are able to help get our teams to disaster areas far sooner than they could with any other way of travel,” said Pilot Bryan Hilliard.

Last year, we began refurbishing a DC-8 cargo plane to carry relief supplies and emergency response staff around the world. For nine months, Samaritan’s Purse inspected, replaced, repaired, and refurbished every square inch of the airplane.

Pilot Bryan Hilliard said the DC-8 adds a new tool to the ministry by allowing us to respond swiftly to disasters around the world.

It takes an army of people diligently working behind the scenes to make a disaster response possible.

While the aviation team was readying the DC-8, another team was finalizing the emergency field hospital. This field hospital, built out of inflatable tents, increases our medical response capacity by functioning as a mobile unit, enabling us to place equipment and resources where they are most needed.

For more than 10 years, Samaritan’s Purse has envisioned expanding its medical response capacity to include a mobile emergency field hospital, and for the past three years, we have actively been working to make this dream a reality.

The set-up team, doctors, nurses, and the Ecuadorian Army all pitched in to get the hospital up and running within a matter of hours.

“To deploy an emergency medical hospital is more than sending a bunch of stuff—it’s human capacity, system logistics, and putting an organizational plan in place. It has taken thousands of hours of training and volunteers to do this,” said Ken Isaacs, vice president of programs and government relations for Samaritan’s Purse.

When a main referral hospital collapsed in Chone, Ecuador, because of the earthquake, it soon became apparent that there was a gap in the medical infrastructure that Samaritan’s Purse could help fill to meet the medical needs of people in need of trauma care.


Because we had spent years preparing for a medical response like this, we were able to respond quickly and get the field hospital, medical staff, and relief teams on the ground in Ecuador four days after the earthquake, using the newly refurbished DC-8.

“This plane and this hospital gives us even more capacity to respond in Jesus’ Name around the world,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse. “This hospital could be the only hope for thousands of people to get health care right now.”

Critically ill patients were brought to the field hospital by helicopter for life-saving treatment.

Turning a field into a hospital

Upon arrival in Chone, the set-up crew began to unpack the unit and build the hospital. While the team had done mock set-ups of the field hospital for training purposes, this was the first time it was assembled with patients waiting for care.

Under the direction of Kenny Adcock, the readiness manager of the hospital, everyone pitched in to help—doctors, nurses, and the Ecuadorian army all worked diligently alongside the set-up team, understanding the dire situation at hand.


In just under 11 hours, an empty field was transformed into a fully functioning hospital, complete with an emergency room, operating room, in-patient beds, and a pharmacy.

Dr. David Gettle, who has worked alongside Samaritan’s Purse for 17 years, said, “I remember being in Kosovo in 1999 when we hand-carried our instruments—to go from that to flying in a DC-8 with pallets that develop into a standing hospital within hours is a great experience. God has blessed Samaritan’s Purse to be able to do that.”


As soon as the hospital opened, patients began to come through the doorway. Our doctors and nurses immediately went to work, focusing on the task at-hand and adapting quickly to meet the needs of the next patient who came into the tent.

The field hospital’s emergency room has the capacity to treat more than 100 patients daily.
“Everyone is working together as the hands and feet of Christ, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.”

“People are seeing what needs to be done and doing it,” said Justin Dennery, a nurse practitioner at the field hospital. “Everyone is working together as the hands and feet of Christ, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.”

The emergency field hospital arrives with all of the necessary equipment to be self-sufficient, including generators and water purification

Doctors and nurses rearranged travel plans, canceled vacations, and left home with less than 24 hours’ notice in order to make this response a reality. They did this knowing that the hours would be long, the conditions would be challenging, and the sleep would be minimal. Despite this, Judith Hoover, a nurse at the field hospital, said, “It’s the most rewarding thing you can do.”

Dr. Henry Smoak III, who canceled a vacation to go to Ecuador, said, “How could I not go?”

Dr. Smoak canceled a Caribbean vacation to come and bring healing to earthquake victims in Ecuador.

During the past two months, medical staff treated 1,285 patients and performed 287 surgeries. They treated severe fractures, appendicitis, pressure wounds, third-degree burns, and other serious medical conditions.

“I am thankful to God that [my brother] is alive, and because of [Samaritan’s Purse] he can walk again.”

Rosa Cevallos, whose brother had hip surgery at the field hospital, said, “I am thankful to God that [my brother] is alive, and because of [Samaritan’s Purse] he can walk again.”


Another patient, Carmen Rivadeneira, said “I feel at peace and so safe here. Everyone is so nice, so good, and so kind—I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Everyone is so nice, so good, and so kind—I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Clean Water, Hygiene Supplies, and Shelter

In addition to the medical response, Samaritan’s Purse also provided clean water to thousands of people, built latrines, and distributed tarps, household water filters, and hygiene kits to survivors of the earthquake.

In Jama, Ecuador, we installed a water filtration unit at the local hospital. This hospital had no way to get clean water after the earthquake because the city’s water supply was compromised. This forced them to rely on bottled water.


“It is only a matter of time until [the bottled water] all runs out,” said Alex Wann, WASH program coordinator with Samaritan’s Purse. [WASH stands for water, sanitation, and hygiene.]

The water filtration unit provides clean water to some 200 people each day at the hospital and also provides clean water to thousands in the community through the public tap.

Samaritan’s Purse distributed 4,462 household water filters and trained recipients on proper use to ensure safe drinking water.

“This system will serve an immediate relief need, but it will also, Lord willing, serve a long-term need for safe drinking water in the Jama hospital,” Wann said.


In Pedernales, where 80 percent of the city’s structures were destroyed by the earthquake, we met the immediate shelter needs of more than 9,000 families and distributed 6,500 hygiene kits.

One of the recipients, Jimmy Delacruz, said the earthquake made the ground move like the ocean. It destroyed his home and forced him to live in a tent with 15 other family members. He was extremely grateful for the supplies and looked forward to having a dry place to sleep because of the tarp.


Other families like Carlos and Amada Pozo kept expressing their thanks to Samaritan’s Purse. Amanda was 38 weeks pregnant and due any day with their first child. These supplies will be invaluable as they get back on their feet.

The Pozos said that seeing international organizations like Samaritan’s Purse stepping up to help them in their time of need reminded them of the message of God.

More than 9,000 tarps were distributed throughout Ecuador—meeting the immediate shelter needs of earthquake survivors.
“How beautiful that God has motivated you to come from faraway lands to give us a hand.”

“How beautiful to know you are at our side,” Carlos said. “How beautiful that God has motivated you to come from faraway lands to give us a hand.”


A Lasting Impact

Now, distributions are complete and Samaritan’s Purse has turned over the operations of the hospital to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health.

Carlos Pozo thanked Samaritan’s Purse for bringing aid to the people of Ecuador. He said that it gave them the strength to rise up and rebuild, knowing that they are not alone.

Carlos and Amada Pozo are overwhelmed with gratefulness for their new tarp and hygiene kit.

In the two months since the earthquake, 157 disaster response team members and support staff have served in Ecuador. Countless others have worked behind the scenes to make this response possible.

As our staff return home and Ecuador rebuilds, we praise God for what He has done and will continue to do among the people of that beautiful country!

Emergency Field Hospital Group Panorama1c.jpg
Help in Jesus' Name