Group From Utah Helps ID Victims of Tsunami

Group From Utah Helps ID Victims of Tsunami

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Ed Yeates reporting Identifying the dead from last December's Tsunami has proven to be an overwhelming task.

That's why physicians from Thailand and other countries may come to Salt Lake to talk about a possible future disaster, one the world medical community wants to be better prepared for should it happen again, somewhere else.

Bodies were arriving in trucks 40 to 50 at a time when Utah medical volunteers were in Thailand's Wat Yan Yao Temple processing the dead two months ago.

Dr. Donald Pedersen,U of U Department of Family Medicine: "Very chilling - with the sight of 50 bodies at a time, laid out, for us then to deal with."

Donald Pederson and others with the University of Utah's Physician Assistance Program, Noi Barker, and teams from Utah based Sorensen Genomics were all there. The images of dry ice and bodies was almost surreal.

Dr. Donald Pedersen,U of U Department of Family Medicine: "The dry ice wafting over the bodies that were laid out in rows of fifteen or twenty - just stay in my mind."

The Sorensen group gathered DNA samples for more precise identification. That project may well lead to rapid DNA kits which could be used in future disasters of this magnitude.

Pedersen and his colleagues were also implanting microchips in bodies in case paperwork turned up missing later on.

Dr. Donald Pedersen,U of U Department of Family Medicine: "A scanner could then be used and a scanner would read out a unique number to that microchip and so that would stay with the body."

While the pathology in disasters of this magnitude may appear cold and clinical, teams were sensitive to Buddhist beliefs about the dead.

Dr. Donald Pedersen,U of U Department of Family Medicine: "Offering a prayer would be helpful to help the spirits ascend or move away - and so I tried to do that as often as i could."

Pedersen says that kind of respect becomes essential, even in the morbid backdrop of makeshift morgues.

Pedersen would like to bring some of the physicians he worked with in Thailand, for a roundtable meeting at the University of Utah.

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