The El Dorado to Sri Lanka connection
August 15, 2005
A UC Davis cardiologist securing medical supplies from Barton Memorial Hospital for Sri Lanka tsunami victims conjured an image of Lake Tahoe when he described the magnitude of the Dec. 26 natural disaster.
The 72 boxes of items will make a Federal Express shipment planned for next week.
“Think of the lake coming in (on land) a whole mile,” Dr. Tissa Kappagoda said Monday, as hospital staff stood motionless, trying to grasp the event that killed well over 240,000 people.
Kappagoda, a Sri Lanka native who returned to the states after a 10-day visit to his homeland three weeks ago, oversaw the fifth round of medical supplies valued at more than $200,000 from Barton Memorial Hospital. The supplies included baby food, syringes, dressings and gloves.
Supply distribution is being managed by a Buddhist Temple in Sacramento and an organization called Sahaya that joined forces with him. Together they have picked up items from Sacramento, Chico and Davis. Still, the outreach seemed minimal compared to the job at hand.
“What we’re doing is just a Band-Aid. The tragedy is so huge,” he said. Even for a heart doctor of 30 years, his expressions Monday provided a look into a physician overwhelmed by the extent of human suffering – physical and psychological.
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“People are very stoic. They get by the best way they know how. Happiness is not tied to material things, but there are times when you need certain necessities,” he said.
The mental anguish has turned out to be as disheartening as the hunger, disease and injuries. Uncertainty blankets the region where 6,000 people are still missing and 450,000 are homeless.
Kappagoda, 63, recalled the story of a young child who lost both parents and was forced to live with his grandparents. To deal with the grief, the grandparents concocted a fib to have his aunt from Australia pose as his mother on the telephone.
“You can’t go back later and rectify it without collateral damage,” he said, shaking his head.
The tragedy that claimed an estimated 31,000 in lives Sri Lanka is magnified by sketchy housing conditions, an unstable government and the sheer poverty that has forced fishermen to live out of tents to be able to do the work.
“This means they can’t cook,” Kappagoda said.
Moreover, the area where reconstruction is under way lies in the path of monsoons.
They’re prohibited from building on the shoreline because of the tsunami. But they do what they need to in order to survive. Of those killed, 27,000 belonged to fishing families.
The local drive is led by El Dorado County deputy district attorney Tony Sears, who knows a county legal assistant whose husband was cared for by Kappagoda.
“It’s been an honor,” Barton staffer Robin Mosca said of her hospital’s good will assistance.