• 50°

Local heath care workers aid Katrina victims

Though many in the Tri-State have opened their wallets to those whose lives have been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, some volunteers in our area had a direct impact this weekend, treating refugees and even bringing a few back to our region.

The effort was primarily an effort of the Lawrence County Community Action Organization. In addition to collecting supplies for victims, the CAO also spearheaded an effort to send volunteers to the disaster site.

David Rotter, chief operations officer of Patriot Emergency Medical Services in Ironton, was one of the medical field workers who volunteered their services.

After checking with the Red Cross, Rotter and crew began to treat flood refugees at the main shelter in Lake Charles, La.; a service they provided steadily until midnight.

That evening, the mayor of Lake Charles asked Rotter to form a separate team to travel to other shelters to offer aid.

Rotter said that most every church was serving as a shelter, and they were able to treat several hundred more at these smaller refuges.

Surprisingly, most of what the doctors, nurses and EMTs treated were not a direct result of the hurricane, but rather the living conditions that were a result of the disaster.

"I thought with a flood we'd see some injuries," Rotter said. "But really it was more like a lot of community living stuff. You know, when you and 4,000 of your closest friends get together, what you have, everybody else gets."

The CAO was also transporting supplies, and Rotter said that many of them were greatly needed.

"What was interesting was that as the day went on, the FEMA people and the Red Cross people we're coming down asking for Tetanus shots, because they didn't even have them for themselves," Rotter said.

After a long night, volunteers packed what little gear they had and returned to Lawrence County, sans almost all their medical supplies, which Rotter said were left for others to use at the disaster site.

What the volunteers did bring back, however, were 44 Louisiana residents who were left without a home in the wake of the hurricane. Though most had no medical problems, Rotter said there was one passenger who had him, and the other volunteers, worried.

"We had two pregnant ladies, one that was due at any moment," Rotter said. "In fact, the impression we got initially was that we weren't going to make the trip without delivering the baby."

At one point, the gathered nurses and doctors polled each other to find out who had delivered a baby most recently, just in case the bundle of joy came on the road. The volunteers managed to skirt delivering a baby.

Lawrence County is now host to dozens who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, but some of it's longtime residents will also continue to carry a part of the disaster with them always.

"The people were there definitely were forever changed by the experience," Rotter said with a slight break in his voice. "It's probably the most rewarding thing I've ever done. If I could, I'd go back tomorrow."