Girl Pulled Alive from Ruins, 15 Days after Earthquake
Department of Biology
University of St. Thomas
This case examines the integrated physiological response to dehydration and starvation from the real-life report of a girl discovered 15 days after an earthquake devastated Port Au-Prince, Haiti, in January 2010. From the meager scientifically relevant facts reported by the newspaper accounts of the girl's condition, students are asked to work through the pathways of water loss from dehydration as they examine the multiple systems involved in homeostatic responses, and then are asked to calculate whether it is possible for a human to withstand 15 days without water. The case also gives the instructor the opportunity to differentiate between the general adaptive response to a stressor and the specialized adaptive responses exhibited by well-acclimated natives. The case was designed for an upper division comparative or human physiology course or possibly a graduate level medical physiology course.
- Understand water balance from the perspective of avenues of water gain and loss and the movement of water between intracellular and extracellular compartments.
- Describe homeostatic mechanisms for regulating water balance, including: osmoreceptors, ADH, and renal responses; renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system; and baroreceptors, vascular responses, and selective organ perfusion.
- Practice quantitative reasoning skills used to predict time of survival given data on rates of water loss.
- Explore potential water savings mechanisms unique to the Haitian girl that might have impacted her survival and differ from the response of non-indigenous or non-acclimated humans to the same stresses.
KeywordsDehydration; water loss; water balance; homeostasis; blood volume; pressure regulation; adaptive response; heat acclimation; physiological stress; starvation; survival; Port Au-Prince; Haiti; earthquake; Caribbean
Educational LevelUndergraduate upper division, Graduate
Type / MethodsInterrupted
Subject HeadingsPhysiology | Medicine (General) | Natural Hazards |