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Girl Pulled Alive from Ruins, 15 Days after Earthquake


Susan B. Chaplin
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.


Dehydration; water loss; water balance; homeostasis; blood volume; pressure regulation; adaptive response; heat acclimation; physiological stress; starvation; survival; Port Au-Prince; Haiti; earthquake; Caribbean

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division, Graduate



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Physiology  |   Medicine (General)  |   Natural Hazards  |  

Date Posted


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Amanda Ryan
Walton High School
Marietta GA
This case study was perfect for my lesson on homeostasis. While my junior/senior introduction to anatomy and physiology students needed a little guidance with the calculations, they were able to relate a concept of homeostasis to a the body's response to a natural disaster.