On May 7, third-year SOMA students Jennifer Rosemore and Andrew Tonini volunteered with the American Red Cross (ARC) in Hackleburg, Ala., a town hit recently by tornadoes. Rosemore is currently completing her clinical rotation in an Alabama Community Health Center, and Tonini is doing a visiting rotation in Alabama.
Hackleburg is a small town with a population of approximately 1,400 people in northwest Alabama (about two hours from Birmingham). The town was hit by the tornadoes on April 27. “Because it is such a small town, it took about two days after the tornadoes for anyone to even realize that the town had suffered such catastrophic damage,” said Rosemore. “A tornado passed very close to my apartment but fortunately did not have any damage.”
After seeing the devastation in her neighborhood, Rosemore and Tonini decided to volunteer with the ARC. “I have always wanted to work in rural areas and medically underserved countries,” said Tonini. “This situation provided me with the experience closer to home. Also, I am currently working on obtaining my Master’s of Public Health through ATSU. I realized that this was a public health emergency, and I wanted to get involved.”
Rosemore is originally from Tuscaloosa, and Alabama is home for both sides of her family. “I wanted to help in any way possible after witnessing all of the destruction in my neighborhood and across the state,” she said.
In Hackleburg, both students worked alongside Rosemore’s aunt, Jessica Kahn, M.D., and Tanya Mullins, M.D., both from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who had come to Alabama to volunteer with tornado relief efforts. “We went around the remains of the town with physicians and nurses from the ARC and did health assessments on victims from the tornado who requested aid from the ARC,” said Rosemore. A variety of patients were treated, including those who had run out of their medication and were beginning to have symptoms of previously controlled conditions, as well as volunteers who had been injured while working. Rosemore and Tonini also volunteered at the FEMA site, unloading and sorting donations.
“Overall, this was a wonderful experience for both of us,” said Rosemore. “We were able to use the medical skills that we learned over the past two years at SOMA while helping in this extraordinary situation. It was remarkable to work with people from all over the country who came together to help this small community.”
The students noted that probably the most memorable part of their day was when members of a neighboring town that had also been destroyed came to Hackleburg to bring dinner to the volunteers and victims. “To see the generosity from people who had lost everything was a humbling experience for both of us,” said Rosemore. They hope to return to Hackleburg and other communities in the surrounding area soon to continue their volunteer efforts.
Alabama Medical Education Consortium students, with whom ATSU is a partner, also assisted in a relief effort on May 13, 2011 for victims of the deadly tornadoes. Dr. and Mrs. Pat Walker of Luverne, Ala. assembled the team of students in response to one local family practice physician, Keith Morrow, D.O., who lost his entire practice clinic in the storms. The team spent the day working with Dr. Morrow, his staff and patients from a modified 18-wheel trailer. Mrs. Sandy Walker commented about the experience: “The students were beyond wonderful to Dr. Keith Marrow and his staff and all the patients that they serve. Students learned first-hand about disaster intervention, shock, and providing hope to those who are dealing with overwhelming hopelessness. They will be your finest doctors. Their compassion for those who have lost everything was precious.”
Assisting Mrs. Walker on the team were John Nguyen, Sunni Beeck, Caleb Whaley, and David McCall, ATSU-SOMA ll students based at the AMEC/SOMA Community Campus in Troy, Ala., along with pre-med students, Marc Richburg and Terrissa Stevens.