In the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina, USD students, faculty, administrators and alumni fanned out across the Gulf Coast region to help. They offered medical assistance, drove cross country to bring supplies, sent children’s books, found housing for displaced residents and made space in USD classrooms so that affected students could continue their education.
Tom Kozak ‘86, who practices family medicine, had breakfast two days before Hurricane Katrina hit with Barry LaForgia ‘76 (J.D.), head of a nonprofit organization called International Relief Teams. Less than a week later, Kozak traveled to Mississippi with one of LaForgia’s medical teams, where he met teammate Mary Kubota ‘99 (M.S.N. ‘00). Kozak and Kubota spent most of their two-week stint working at a makeshift clinic in a portable trailer in Gulfport, Miss.
Some patients were dehydrated; others needed tetanus shots or medications for illnesses ranging from diabetes to schizophrenia.
Sheryl Nespor, a nurse practitioner who teaches at USD’s School of Nursing, was a member of a Scripps Medical Response Team that saw nearly 600 patients a day at the Convention Center and area clinics in Houston.
“It was difficult seeing fellow Americans living on cots in the Convention Center and knowing they’d been there for weeks,” says Nespor, who returned early when she was evacuated because of Hurricane Rita. “I saw with fresh eyes and new conviction the role nurse practitioners can play, especially in managing people’s chronic illnesses.”
Lisa (Anderson) Pigeon ‘89, a former elementary school teacher, was committed to sending children’s books to shelters throughout the region. She and sister Debra (Anderson) Cole ‘82 sent e-mails asking people to donate books inscribed with Bible verses or messages of hope. The e-mails were forwarded many times over. Before long, they’d collected 5,000 books.
Many of the books were taken to shelters by John Carrieri ‘91. Carrieri loaded up a truck with 12,000 pounds of supplies and drove in mid-September to shelters in Dallas to distribute everything from food, clothing and medicine to toiletries, luggage and books. He hopes to set up a Web site featuring stories of individuals and families so that people can donate directly to them.
“Eventually the media will forget about Hurricane Katrina,” he says, “but I wanted to do something that would keep this in the forefront of people’s minds for years to come.”
One student who saw his share of heartache was Laurent Demosthenidy, one of USD’s 13 visiting students from the Gulf Coast. The third-year law student was here last semester from Tulane University.
“The faculty has been very accommodating,” Demosthenidy says. “And, while I can’t say I’m glad to be here, I am in a much better situation than others who were affected.”
Demosthenidy expects to go back to classes at Tulane this month. He says while conditions won’t be ideal, he’s looking forward to returning.
“I owe something to New Orleans,” he says. “I want to help make it the place I loved.”