Closer to home: How Dartmouth helped in the wake of Katrina
She was wild and crazy. Destructive and deadly. Everyone is still talking about Katrina, the ferocious category-5 hurricane that slammed into the Gulf Coast in August and nearly wiped out the city of New Orleans. More than 1,000 people died and millions were displaced. Hospitals, schools, and businesses were severely damaged or destroyed. Just as the tsunami's survivors will be struggling to rebuild their lives for a long time, so, too, will Katrina's.
DMS emergency physician Robert Gougelet, M.D., was on the Gulf Coast even before Katrina made landfall. Gougelet, the medical director for disaster response at DHMC, heads a Boston-based disaster medical assistance team (DMAT)—a group of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and paramedics that is always ready to respond to major emergencies. They've responded to previous hurricanes and earthquakes and to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.
As Katrina headed for New Orleans, the DMAT spent two days preparing at Fort McClellan in Alabama. Then they participated in several missions, including the evacuation of patients by helicopter, ambulance, and bus from a Mississippi hospital after its power went out. They also helped to reopen a Biloxi, Miss., hospital damaged by the hurricane—water and rain had flooded part of the building, even its emergency room; the power had failed and so had the backup generator. The DMAT assisted staff, treating some patients by flashlight and others in a tent outside the hospital. They gave tetanus shots, cleaned and treated wounds, and administered antibiotics to prevent infection.
Gougelet's disaster relief team also helped to reopen a Biloxi, Miss., hospital damaged by the hurricane—water and rain had flooded part of the building and the power had failed. The team assisted staff, treating some patients by flashlight and others in a tent outside the hospital.
"Even some of these small wound infections can turn out to be life-threatening," Gougelet told the Boston Globe last fall. "People without their diabetic medicines or their asthma medicines can die. Tetanus can kill you. . . . This is important."
Gougelet visited the Gulf Coast again in early December to attend a debriefing and to greet and orient Dartmouth College students and staff who went to Biloxi, Miss., to lend a hand.
Another veteran disaster and humanitarian relief worker, Dean Seibert, M.D., an associate professor of medicine emeritus, also helped out. As a public health service reservist, he was assigned to San Antonio, Tex., to help care for 30,000 Katrina refugees (see here for more about Seibert).
The Dartmouth community as a whole responded quickly and generously to the Katrina relief effort. Employees and students donated money and supplies for hurricane victims; held fundraising drives; offered their homes to students and faculty who had been displaced by the hurricane; and volunteered their time. The College offered temporary admission to displaced undergraduate and graduate students; accommodated displaced faculty; hosted a Red Cross disaster training session; and developed online
resources to facilitate the exchange of information.
The Dartmouth group that went to Biloxi for two weeks in December is cleaning and de-molding homes; working in reopened schools; and helping out in an animal shelter.
Dartmouth Medical School
DMS worked with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and other state and national groups to coordinate medical relief efforts and assist the affected medical schools.
DMS hosted a fourth-year medical student from Tulane University, which was closed for several months after Katrina. And DMS students are organizing fund-raising drives and at least one—third-year student Debraj Mukherjee—has plans to travel to the region soon.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center
DHMC encouraged employees to contribute money or volunteer through established relief agencies, such as the Red Cross. Employees who helped with the relief effort included paramedic John Hinds, who's on Gougelet's DMAT team; several nurses; National Guard members; and others. By the time three of the nurses reported for Katrina-relief duty, the Gulf Coast was being hit by Hurricane Rita—so they wound up in southeast Texas, caring for victims of Rita.
And then there was a small but very meaningful gesture—about 40 members of the Northern Lights Quilt Guild held a "sew-in" at DHMC in November to make quilts for babies at the Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss. DHMC and other New Hampshire hospitals had adopted Hancock Medical Center, which sustained substantial damage from Katrina.
Laura Carter is the associate editor of Dartmouth Medicine magazine. The photo above of schooners at anchor is from a stock photography source. All the other photos in this feature were taken by the three DMS alumni who are its subjects—the ones in India by Hein (or her husband) and the ones in Thailand and Indonesia by Atwood or Aldis.
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