skip navigation nih record
Vol. LX, No. 21
October 17, 2008
cover

previous story

next story



Commissioned Corps NIH’ers Help Hurricane Victims

Lcdr. Merel Kozlosky, Clinical Center dietitian, managed almost 1,000 meals per day for patients at FMS College Station, Tex.
Lcdr. Merel Kozlosky, Clinical Center dietitian, managed almost 1,000 meals per day for patients at FMS College Station, Tex.
Cdr. Chad Koratich (l), Clinical Center nurse, poses with Cdr. Susan Orsega at FMS College Station.
Cdr. Chad Koratich (l), Clinical Center nurse, poses with Cdr. Susan Orsega at FMS College Station.

They hit the ground running—and caring.

In response to back-to-back natural disasters, 78 Commissioned Corps officers in 14 institutes and centers recently deployed to help victims of Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

“It’s an enormous operation,” says Capt. Doris Ravenell-Brown, NIH Commissioned Corps liaison. “These compassionate caregivers are America’s health responders.”

The three powerful storms of September hit the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, forcing millions to flee. In the U.S., Hanna caused 7 deaths; Gustav, with landfall of category 2, killed 43. Ike, with landfall winds of 110 m.p.h. (1 m.p.h. shy of category 3), killed 71. Together, the storms wreaked billions of dollars of damage.

HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt rapidly activated the entire Commissioned Corps, which serves throughout HHS and is led by the Surgeon General.

Its officers have diverse specialties. Some were shifted downtown to HHS headquarters or other administrative posts, but many flew into areas where their billets offered a cot, shared showers and chow that was more grin-and-bear-it than gourmet. Deployments typically lasted 2 weeks, or a bit longer.

It’s not easy transforming a sports arena into a Federal Medical Station (FMS). The bleachers are bare; the fans are missing; yet there are heroes. Here are a few of their stories:

Lcdr. Blakeley Denkinger, research dietitian, Clinical Center: “When the patients arrived at our FMS in Alexandria, La., some of them had not had anything to eat or drink in 2 days. One man in a wheelchair had saliva crusted all around his mouth and open wounds on his hands and feet. He could not speak English, so the only thing that he could do was point to one of the water bottles sitting on a nearby table. By the time these patients left our shelter they were clean, well-fed, well-rested and had significantly better blood sugars than they had when they arrived.”

Lcdr. Brent Bonfiglio, clinical treatment coordinator, NIAID: “I was deployed [as a registered nurse] to Marshall, Tex., where we set up a 100-bed FMS; then deployed to College Station, Tex., where we set up a 500-bed FMS and cared for more than 400 patients. Some special moments were taking care of two patients who were 104 and 101. They had amazing stories.”

In LSU’s Athletic Center during response efforts for Hurricane Gustav, NIDDK’s Lcdr. Helen Hunter (at laptop) is joined by colleagues from CDC and IHS.
In LSU’s Athletic Center during response efforts for Hurricane Gustav, NIDDK’s Lcdr. Helen Hunter (at laptop) is joined by colleagues from CDC and IHS.
With the help of local authorities and volunteers, the Commissioned Corps transformed Texas A&M’s Reed Arena into a Federal Medical Station.
With the help of local authorities and volunteers, the Commissioned Corps transformed Texas A&M’s Reed Arena into a Federal Medical Station.

Lcdr. Helen Hunter, grants management specialist, NIDDK: “My special moments [in Baton Rouge] were conversations I had with patients and their family members. An older gentleman shared how happy he was to find out where his wife was. When they were evacuated from their home, he was airlifted to Baton Rouge, and his wife to Texas. He spent the first week worrying about her, but was overjoyed when word reached him on her whereabouts.”

Lcdr. Merel Kozlosky, supervisory metabolic dietitian and dietetic internship director, Clinical Center: “I managed patient meal services and clinical nutrition care for the patients at FMS College Station. At our peak, I served 3 meals per day to approximately 330 patients and managed about 20 patients on tube feedings, 20 patients on pureed diets, 140 patients on a dietary restriction and 30 patients who needed assistance feeding.”

Cdr. Chad Koratich, Clinical Center nurse: “One of the evacuees was an amazing lady from Galveston with a large breast tumor visible to the naked eye. She got my attention at 2 a.m. when I noticed that both her dressing and bed linens were well-saturated with blood...She was transferred out to a local hospital for higher level care.”

Lt. Tracey Chinn, RN, Clinical Center: “One of my many special patients burst into tears, gave me the most sincere hug and told me that she did not want to leave because we had provided her the best care she had received in years and she couldn’t be more thankful. [That night] I was sitting on my cot and trying to keep my eyes open. I looked at my fellow officers laughing and realized... we have really done a good service here.”

For more information on hurricane/disaster response, visit http://grants.nih.gov/grants/natural_ disasters.htm and http://www.usphs.gov/Articles/hurricane.aspx. NIHRecord Icon

back to top of page