Dr. Natalie Moore was keeping an eye on the news leading up to Labor Day weekend — experts were tracking Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that was headed for the Caribbean and the Florida coast.
On Sept. 1, it swept over the Bahamas and caused complete devastation to many areas of the islands. Moore knew her skills as an emergency medicine physician could help, so she volunteered to assist in the recovery efforts on the ground. She was called out to the eastern part of Grand Bahama.
“And this entire area, they weren’t even sure what was going on in terms of health care,” she said. “Nobody else had gone out there to do any sort of medical care.”
Moore normally works in an ER at UConn Health, but for the past two weeks, she’s been part of emergency response teams in the Bahamas with International Medical Corps, a humanitarian organization that provides medical response to natural disasters, human crises and disease outbreaks worldwide.
Doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and social services experts have been caring for people who’ve lost loved ones and their homes, who have little food and clean water, and lack regular medical care. Physicians like Moore are trying to fill those gaps.
“Going basically door to door, knocking and I’m seeing if people are around,” she said. “Often in these situations, when everything is blown away, people lose their home medications and you can have acute exacerbations of these chronic disease when you’re not taking your medicine.”
Hurricane Dorian was one of the most powerful storms to hit the island in many years — some parts of the islands were under more than 20 feet of water. Many people remain missing, and the death toll continues to rise.
Susan Mangicaro, emergency response director for North America, Latin America and the Caribbean at International Medical Corps, has been leading response teams in the Bahamas since Sept. 2. She said it’s complete devastation with a fractured health system.
“You go from the initial emergency phase where first they’re doing search and rescue and you’re doing trauma care, and then you have the aftermath,” Mangicaro said. “It goes into a kind of recovery from a medical perspective whereby those folks that are here, that are returning, they’re running out of medications. They’re coming back to kind of dig out their homes and having punctures and lacerations, and that’s the phase we’re in right now.”
Among the emergency responders who went down to the islands is Amannda Ramsdell, a UConn Health nurse, who flew out of Connecticut on Sept. 11.
“It was amazing to watch the individuals come out and had comfort in knowing we could check their blood pressures, make sure their wounds were okay, go over their medications,” she said.
It’s a small comfort for the people she met who had suffered so much. Ramsdell said at one clinic, they treated a man who had come in for muscle soreness. She found out that he had escaped the flood waters by hanging in a mango tree for two days.
Mental health professionals on site helped a woman who had lost all of her children in the storm.
“You find some very resilient people, but you also find resilient people that do need medical care,” Ramsdell said.
Back in Connecticut, neighbors have helped take care of her husband and three sons as she helps care for families in the Bahamas.
“The neighborhood every night is delivering meals to my family so my husband doesn’t have to worry about the meals, which has been a huge help,” she said. “So whether they’re helping indirectly or helping directly, them doing things like that is a huge support to us and we know we have that when we go home.”
Moore and Ramsdell will fly back to Connecticut this week while different members of the International Medical Corps will continue to provide recovery assistance in the region for up to three months, or longer.
The UConn Health providers said they won’t forget the people of the Bahamas.
"The individual stories become part of your story," said Ramsdell, "and as you share your story, you take away the positive you have done and the help you’ve done for the community, and we look back and realize, you can’t take anything for granted."