At the Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Rosenberg, Texas, those impacted by Hurricane Harvey can find a little respite.
The Church’s multipurpose room is filled with clothes, linens, diapers, kitchen supplies, cleaning materials and other essentials people need after losing everything to the monster storm that hit Texas two and a half weeks ago. But elsewhere in the church, Project HOPE has set up a clinic where survivors of Hurricane Harvey receive care for their families in the aftermath of the devastating storm.
Project HOPE volunteer, Dr. Harry Owens, or Harry as he prefers to be called, has been at the site all week long, treating anyone who shows up, filling critical lost prescriptions for chronic illnesses and sometimes just offering a little bit of comfort to the hurricane’s youngest victims.
School started up again in Rosenberg this week, a small sign of normalcy for the children in this region heavily impacted by the storm. “We have seen several families, who have lost everything - their housing, their medicines and their transportation. All they have are the clothes on their backs. They come into the church to pick up donated necessities, and also come to see me,” Harry said.
“Because school is starting back up, several people have brought their young children, children who are starting kindergarten who need to have a medical exam to go to school. We do the exams for them and fill out the school forms.”
Working with children is one of Harry’s specialties. A longtime medical volunteer for Project HOPE, including a stint on the SS HOPE in the 1970s, Harry understands the nervousness children feel when undergoing a medical exam under normal circumstances. Throw in a disaster situation, and even a routine school check-up can quickly turn teary.
“In addition to the necessities the church and community are providing to the families that need help after Hurricane Harvey, they are also handing out stuffed animals to children visiting the clinics,” Harry said.
Harry uses those stuffed animals to his advantage. “I had a 5-year-old who was hesitant for me to listen to her heart, so I instead asked her if I could listen to her unicorn’s heart,” he said. To Harry’s surprise, the young girl also wanted to hear the unicorn’s heart. “I had to admit to the girl, “I can’t really hear the unicorn’s heart, but maybe we can hear yours instead.””
The exam went well and Harry was able to give the young girl’s mother the signed medical form to present at school the next day. A small comfort for a young mother who has much heavier problems on her mind.
A family practice and emergency medicine doctor from Oregon, Harry has been on the ground in Texas for Project HOPE since August 31. “I was part of the Project HOPE advance team for the Hurricane Harvey disaster,” he said. He has already worked at several different medical locations.
“While at this point, we are not seeing many serious illnesses or medical situations, we are seeing patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes and high blood pressure that has gone untreated because people lost their medications in the storm. We are also seeing people who have infected cuts and scratches, from wading waist deep in flood waters and we are administering lots of tetanus shots.”
Harry is working alongside other HOPE volunteers, community members and volunteers from other NGOs.
“We are not only working with patients suffering from Hurricane related injuries, illnesses, loss of medicines, we are also working alongside staff that are also going through the heartache, going through all the stress of the hurricane or worrying about their relatives who have lost their homes, he said.
“In addition to medical care, Project HOPE also offers the services of Dr. Nancy Miller, a licensed therapist who is seeing patients who are reporting heart palpitations, anxiety, not being able to sleep and other mental health stress from Hurricane Harvey.”
Harry will continue volunteering in Texas until the end of the month, but this is an experience he won’t soon forget. “These are people who have gone the through a community level stress, their community, their towns have been destroyed and damaged. Still there is so much resiliency. In fact, many of the more recent patients I have seen are actually those seeking treatment for aches and pains and cuts as they work hard and long, trying to clean out and rebuild their flooded homes. I have to remind them to slow down.”
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