WVSOM student volunteers are helping clear debris from flood-damaged homes and buildings in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. From left, Ryan J. Grant, OMS II; Tanner M. Tuggle, OMS II; Nicholas A. Rawson, OMS II; Ethan Stephens, OMS II; Anthony J. Barlow, OMS II; Rachael L. Weigle, OMS III; and Victor Rendon, OMS II.
Disaster relief

‘Everyone knows somebody who’s lost someone’: WVSOM gives back after deadly flood

WVSOM faculty, residents, medical students and staff are teaming up to coordinate donations and medical care in hard-hit towns.

When the nation’s most devastating flash flood since 2010 hit West Virginia last month, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) in Lewisburg found itself on the front lines. Lewisburg is the county seat of Greenbrier County, where 15 of the disaster’s 23 deaths took place.

In the days following the natural disaster, DOs, residents and medical students and alumni of WVSOM volunteered their expertise in local emergency rooms, provided tetanus shots for area residents, cleared debris from damaged homes, and even performed osteopathic manipulative treatment on members of the West Virginia National Guard, who are leading relief efforts. WVSOM assistant professor C. Bridgett Morrison, DO, and Ryan Grant, OMS II, told The DO about their disaster relief work and how it relates to the core values of osteopathic medicine.

Helping hands

C. Bridgett Morrison, DO

The disaster has affected the area’s residents deeply, says Dr. Morrison, who’s a native of Greenbrier County. “Everyone knows somebody who’s lost someone,” she says. “Quite a few faculty members at WVSOM have been affected in some way by the flood.”

As the floodwaters crested, Dr. Morrison and a group of her medical residents navigated washed-out roads to reach White Sulphur Springs, where they’d heard many patients needed emergency care. Throughout the weekend, the residents provided extra support in the ER, evaluating and suturing wounds and resuscitating a patient who’d suffered a cardiac arrest. Dr. Morrison has also organized donations of tetanus shots and is helping conduct door-to-door wellness checks with members of the National Guard.

‘You don’t think twice’

Second-year student Grant is organizing volunteer outreach among WVSOM students, who are working with statewide group Volunteer West Virginia to help out in hard-hit communities such as White Sulphur Springs, Rainelle and Caldwell. “We’re clearing out flood-damaged homes and buildings by shoveling out mud, tearing out drywall and flooring and removing large appliances,” Grant explains.

As a future DO, the decision to get involved in disaster relief was an easy one, Grant says. “In these hard-hit communities, residents’ quality of life right now is terrible—it’s really a tragic situation,” he says. “When something like this happens, you don’t think twice about trying to help as much as you can.”

Mind, body, spirit

The osteopathic emphasis on treating mind, body and spirit is especially relevant to disaster relief, Dr. Morrison notes. Now that the initial shock of the flood is over, she says, Greenbrier County residents are working to rebuild and regain a sense of normalcy. But moving forward is sometimes difficult in the aftermath of so much trauma.

“It’s heartbreaking hearing first responders’ stories of being in boats and rescuing homeowners from their rooftops,” Dr. Morrison says. “These are among the greatest acts of heroism I can think of, but it’s going to be very important to make sure people here have access to mental health care as well as primary care services moving forward.”

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