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Vol. LIX, No. 1
January 12, 2007

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How a Community Came Together
NIH’ers Unite to Help Fire Victims

NICHD’s Brenda Hanning was driving down Rockville Pike when she saw the flames.

“They were two stories high,” she said, “and a strong wind was whipping them around. I knew a lot of NIH fellows lived over in that neighborhood, so the next day I looked in the Post and saw the story.”

The Dec. 5 piece included names that sounded familiar. “I checked the global [NIH email directory],” said Hanning, who directs NICHD’s intramural Office of Education. “It was Dr. Das—one of our fellows—and his wife, who’s over at VRC.”

The fire was started by a sport utility vehicle that smashed into a residential building at Rollins Park Apartments and hit a gas meter. NICHD senior investigator Dr. Biswajit Das heard the crash and ran outside with his wife and 2-year-old son. He pulled the driver out of the vehicle just before it exploded, sparking an inferno that spread rapidly through the apartment complex. Flying debris seriously injured his wife, VRC/NIAID’s Dr. Dolanchanpa Ghosh-Das, who is 8 months pregnant. More than 125 firefighters responded to the blaze, which destroyed 6 apartment units and displaced seven families.

A Note from a Grateful Family

“We lost everything that we left in our house—it was completely destroyed by the fire—but we were very lucky that no one in our family was injured. Many people were concerned about us and gave us everything that we need to rebuild our lives. We received support from many Japanese scientists at NIH and many other people through NIH’s Recreation and Welfare Association. This support encouraged us very much and we are all fine now. We want to express our deep gratitude for all the help they have given to us. Thank you very much.”—

And of these, Hanning discovered, three were NIH families, including Dr. Shoichi Takikita of NIAMS, whose wife, NCI’s Dr. Mikiko Takikita, was in Japan with their two children at the time; Dr. Byung-Cheol Song of NIDDK and his family. When colleagues at NIH learned about the tragedy, their reaction was swift.

After checking with her ethics officer for guidance on emergency fundraising, Hanning got on the horn to R&W President Randy Schools. He agreed that they needed to help—and pronto. Hanning then wrote a proposal that Schools ran through channels.

“It happened quickly,” said Schools, “within a couple of days.”

“I was impressed with how quickly everyone responded,” said Hanning. “Randy acted fast and so did Bldg. 1.”

Once they had permission, they set up an account and R&W fired off an email to NIH employees. This yielded “a wonderful outpouring of support,” said Schools, who coordinated the effort. “People not only gave cash”—totaling $8,000—“they gave clothing, linens, toys and gift certificates so these families could rebuild their lives.”

The R&W motto, “Connecting People, Changing Lives,” was deployed overnight.

Every bit helped—two teenagers donated their allowance; one individual gave $500. About 120 folks in all contributed, including Farmland Elementary School, which took up a collection among pupils’ parents; Blacks in Government; and the NIH international women’s group. People offered immediate shelter in their own homes as well as longer-term options that included a break on the rent.

Along with R&W staffers David Browne and Kathy Carpenter, Schools then sat down and wrote thank-you notes—by hand—to all who contributed.

“The idea of losing everything hits people in a very powerful way,” said Hanning. “This brought out the best in NIH.”

When her phone call came, Schools said, he was just finishing up a strenuous CFC season with its many events, some hosting up to 400 people—“like doing a wedding once a week,” he said. Yet he welcomed the call to help fellow NIH’ers and was delighted with the response: “It’s neat to know that your fellow employees, without even knowing you, step right forth to help,” he said.

The families are now being resettled; some are staying with local relatives.

“I think our mission is accomplished,” Schools said. NIH Record Icon

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