Help and Hope in the Tornadoes’ Wake
Although UAB’s Southside campus was spared, the deadly outbreak of tornadoes on April 27 touched lives across the UAB community. As that Wednesday evening progressed, victims poured into the emergency department at UAB Hospital. In all, 134 patients were treated, including 40 with major trauma injuries and 23 who were admitted to the intensive-care unit. Staff added 14 beds to manage the influx by creating an auxiliary ICU.
“The injuries were remarkable,” said Loring Rue, M.D., chief of trauma surgery at UAB Hospital. Debris tossed through the air by the devastating winds created wounds consistent with high-speed car crashes, Rue explained. But despite the severity of the injuries, there were no fatalities among patients transported to UAB. (Rue discusses UAB Hospital’s response to the tornado disaster in this live interview with CNN.)
Other UAB medical personnel were at work out in the field. Emergency medicine physician Sarah Nafziger, M.D., headed for Birmingham’s shattered Pratt City neighborhood as soon as the tornadoes passed through. Joining first responders from around the region, she worked all night to triage patients. Nafziger, who trains UAB medical students in emergency medicine and is the medical director for several EMS units in Birmingham, was amazed at the “widespread destruction” she saw. She told the Wall Street Journal that it reminded her of her experiences in New York City on September 11, 2001.
While Nafziger looked for victims on city streets, UAB faculty and staff were racing to track down students and colleagues to make sure they were safe. The UAB School of Medicine, which has campuses in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville in addition to Birmingham, was particularly vulnerable. There was no major property damage at any of those locations and no serious injuries among the school’s hundreds of students. But the Medical Student Services group, led by Laura Kezar, M.D., quickly identified several students who lost homes, vehicles, and other significant items. As School of Medicine dean Ray L. Watts, M.D., explains in a recent blog post, those students will receive emergency financial help from the existing Medical Student Assistance Fund of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association.
As the magnitude of the disaster became clear on Thursday, students, faculty, and staff began to look for ways to help. Volunteers from UAB’s eight sorority and fraternity chapters in the National Pan-Hellenic Council and other student groups collected bottled water, clothes, and other necessities. UAB psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D., helped shine a light on the psychological trauma brought on by the storms in interviews with many major media outlets, including NBC and the Weather Channel. UAB Hospital launched an emergency blood drive with the American Red Cross that collected an impressive 509 units of blood in four days, and a regularly scheduled drive the next week saw heavy turnout.
UAB student Katelyn Armstrong, a junior graphic design major, started a Facebook group called Blazers for Birmingham on Thursday, April 28, that soon had more than 600 fans on the social networking site. The group has mobilized hundreds of those volunteers to join relief efforts led by the nonprofit Hands On Birmingham, including debris removal in several area neighborhoods.
Many UAB students were able to put their classroom training to the test as part of relief efforts. Respiratory therapy students in the UAB School of Health Professions answered the call on Friday, April 29, when emergency management officials in hard-hit Cullman asked UAB assistant professor Jerry King for help. Staff and students from the school assisted at a medical relief shelter for people needing regular treatment for lung conditions. Several members of the school’s surgical physician assistant program also volunteered to help perform breathing treatments and monitor patients at the Woodlands Sanctuary Hospital in Cullman.
Restore and Rebuild
Members of the Blazer family both on and off campus are able to contribute financially to support tornado victims. The UAB Benevolent Fund set up a special Tornado Relief Fund account to assist UAB students and employees with storm-related emergency needs. Online donations came in from around the state and as far away as California. In a cooperative effort, UAB and Sodexho/Campus Restaurants allowed students to donate unused Dining Dollars to the Tornado Relief Fund through May 31. As of May 5, more than $46,000 has been awarded to 49 individuals and families, including 11 students.
Writing in her weekly President’s Post on Monday, May 2, UAB president Carol Garrison, Ph.D., emphasized the need to continue to respond with “unrelenting resolve to restore hope and rebuild our communities.”
The medical teams at UAB and around the region “have performed magnificently, doing what they alone can do: Tending to severe physical wounds,” Garrison said. “But when it comes to wounded lives and wounded spirits, we can all be of vital service, helping members of our community get the resources they need to begin putting the pieces back together.”