A University of Aberdeen medical student, Alison Torrens, travelled to Louisiana to participate in relief efforts providing medical care to people displaced by hurricane Katrina.
During her five day stay in Louisiana, Torrens witnessed first hand the illness and suffering left in the wake of the epic storm that ripped into the city of New Orleans pounding buildings with nearly 150 mile an hour winds and tearing open the levees allowing gulf water to pour into the city.
American Army Black Hawk helicopters flew the fifth year medical student and her team into the International Airport in New Orleans where a triage station had been set up to evaluate the flood of casualties for medical problems.
“The site was devastating,” Torrens recalls. “Hundreds of people lying on the floor in filth, some dying. I helped one elderly woman get a drink who was too weak to even open the lid on the water bottle she was given.”
After a few hours in New Orleans it was decided that medical staff would be transported to Baton Rouge to help set up staff emergency medical treatment stations. So it was back in the helicopter and off to Louisiana State University where a basketball stadium was transformed into a 250 bed emergency room where roughly 3,000 patients were treated in one day.
“We were told the new facilities were the largest emergency room in the United States,” notes Torrens. “It was really great to be part of something so big.”
While there she helped evaluate and treat patients with a variety of medical problems, most stemming from dehydration or untreated chronic medical problems such as diabetes or heart disease. A number of patients had fractures or minor wounds. Torrens helped two patients by surgically removing dead tissue from infected sores.
Torrens volunteered for the trip down south while on a surgical rotation in Pennsylvania with Clark Gerhart, MD an advanced laparoscopic general surgeon in Wilkes-Barre, PA. When Gerhart and an orthopedic surgeon friend of his decided to go Torrens was quick to offer her assistance.
“Alison was great,” said Gerhart, “she was a valuable part of the medical team and really helped with the tremendous work load. She worked long hours without sleep or showering and never complained.”
As a final gesture on the trip the team brought a displaced family of four back to Pennsylvania to help them establish a new life there. The mother and three children had lost everything in the flood.