SHP_SPA_students1UAB Physician Assistant Students Laura Winn (2nd left) and Carrie Cole (middle).University of Alabama at Birmingham Assistant Professor Jerry King, in the Department of Clinical & Diagnostic Sciences, got a call Friday from the Emergency Management Control Center in Cullman, Ala. They were looking for respiratory therapy students to volunteer at a medical relief shelter opened for people on chronic therapy, CPAP and BiPAP. The shelter was also providing meals and water to residents without power as well as allowing tornado survivors to charge batteries to wheelchairs and other medical equipment.

“This was not a hard decision to make,” said King. “I knew our staff and students could make a difference to this community and help those in need.”

King quickly got into action. King and RT students Ashley Glaze and Janie Huddleston volunteered at the old Woodlands Sanctuary Hospital in Cullman over the weekend with more students planned to offer assistance this week.

“As a college student, I can’t afford to give money to the relief effort, but I can use my skills,” said Huddleston, a junior from Vestavia Hills, “It was rewarding to see what I’ve learned in the last year and put it to good use in a situation like this.”

Several residents lost power which meant no power for their oxygen tanks. Huddleston went to an 89-year-old woman’s house to show her how to use a new oxygen tank and even trained the nurses. Other times, Huddleston just lent an ear.

“One man just wanted to talk to someone about what happened,” said Huddleston.

“The patients kept saying thank you, thank you,” said Glaze, a Gardendale native. “I should be thanking them. I wasn’t doing anything. They encouraged me more than I felt I was helping them.”

SHP_SPA_students2(L to R) UAB Physician Assistant faculty Paul Harrelson, students Jaclyn Neitzer and Emily Meadows, UAB Hospital's Christy Meadows and PA faculty Kerry Whitaker Kerry Whitaker, assistant professor in UAB’s Physician Assistant programin the School of Health Professions, just happened to be with King when he received the call. The tornadoes hit close to home for Whitaker. He understood the helplessness in the community after surviving Hurricane Charlie without power for eight days in southwest Florida.

“There is always an overwhelming sense of wanting to do more with the talents and skills we have as a medical professional,” said Whitaker. “However, there is no better gratification than helping people out in a time of need.”

Whitaker saw an opportunity for his PA students and faculty to volunteer. Within two hours, three faculty and 13 students signed up to help in shifts at Woodlands Sanctuary Hospital in Cullman from Friday through Sunday. The PA’s provided breathing treatments, performed vital signs and monitored patients. They screened patients and determined which ones needed to go the emergency department at Cullman Regional Medical Center. The group endured hot conditions with no air conditioning and power running off of generators, but didn’t complain because they were glad they could use their services to help those in need.


"Helping people heal and getting people the care they need in such a desperate time is truly fulfilling, and really embodies the spirit of our profession," said Helen Alexander, a second year PA student from Hoover.

“There were endless hugs and thanks, from the patients and CEO of Cullman Regional Medical Center, for the relief we helped to provide to this community in need,” said Whitaker.

SHP_SPA_students3(L to R) UAB Physician Assistant faculty Kerry Whitaker, students Dawn Winslow, Felipe Valencia, Vincent Baglini, Laura Nugent, Matt Carrol and faculty Paul Harrelson.SPA student Carrie Cole used her other skills to help in the relief efforts. She’s a firefighter with the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department. Classmate Laura Winn has been staying with Cole during her clinical rotation. The two seniors spent the weekend in Shoal Creek with the Gallant Fire Department clearing debris and lending a hand.

"In how many other fields do you have the privilege to help someone at the absolute worst moment of their life, and have them place their absolute trust in you, a stranger, to them?" said Cole. "Be it with my fire department or in the medical field, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when I am able to help someone."

Glaze says she’s going back to continue to help not just for another day but for several months. Cullman has a special place in her heart after spending years at her family’s lake house on Smith Lake.

“It hit home for me,” said Glaze. “I would want them to help me if it had happened in my area.”