Two local nurses from Deborah and Lourdes recount time spent in Texas aiding victims of Hurricane Harvey
As nurse Teresa Weisneck sat with a patient watching news coverage of Hurricane Harvey, she knew she needed to head down to Texas.
“I was just like, I want to go there and help so badly,” Weisnick said. “So many people can help clean and cook, but not everyone has that skill set of nursing.”
She was one of more than 50 New Jersey nurses and practitioners who traveled to Texas last week to volunteer in areas that needed support in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The storm dropped more than 50 inches of rain on the Houston area about two weeks ago, leaving thousands of people displaced and living in shelters.
The trip was coordinated by the New Jersey Hospital Association.
Nurses volunteered at Bay Area Regional Medical Center in Webster, about 23 miles from Houston, relieving staff that had been working for several days straight. They stayed with host families that sustained little damage to their homes.
“We were greeted with such hospitality by the people of Texas. They were so grateful we came to help,” said Weisneck, a nurse at the Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Pemberton Township and a resident of Toms River, Ocean County.
Nurse Phil Johnson, of Moorestown, saw many patients who were injured while trying to rescue people trapped in buildings. One man developed red cellulitis, a bacterial infection, from wading in dirty floodwaters to help neighbors.
On their days off, nurses demolished and cleaned out homes that had extensive damage. Johnson, a nurse at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, spent time tearing down houses of staff at the hospital where he volunteered. One couple had bought their first home a year ago.
“It was hard to go out and see people’s houses in disrepair, because you know what those things mean to you,” he said.
Others such as Weisneck volunteered at shelters packed with thousands of people. She triaged those who needed medical attention and pitched in at the “psych section,” where people could seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder. Some had not slept for days and were extremely on edge, she said.
Weisneck recalled one woman who had woken in the middle of the night to discover water had risen several feet around her. A neighbor broke a window and climbed through to rouse her.
“It was hard to choke back tears when people told you their stories,” Weisneck said.
Shelters received so many supplies that some needed to stop accepting them because there was no more storage room.
The nurses, who volunteered from numerous states, were most impressed by the strength and perseverance of the residents of Texas, where everyday people did whatever they could to help others, from swimming through floodwaters to rescue people trapped under debris to making coffee for nurses after a 12-hour shift.
The New Jersey nurses arrived home last Wednesday, but their work won't end there.
Weisneck is working with the Texas hospital to create a program for people to “adopt a family” to buy gifts for around the holidays, and Johnson said he expects his colleagues will soon travel to Florida to aid victims of Hurricane Irma.
“It helps put your life in perspective,” Johnson said of his experience. “All these people lost things, but what they had was their community and each other.”