By Johnny Jackson
Sixteen student nurses from Clayton State University responded immediately to a call for help, gathering together Tuesday to begin an 11-day journey of a lifetime. They loaded three vans and two cars with supplies and swept off to join thousands of others in assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina along the gulf coastal region.
Under the direction of New Orleans original Sue Odom, Ph.D.. and acting department chair of Nursing at Clayton State, the students traveled in high spirits down interstate 20 with two registered nurses from Northside Hospital and four Clayton State faculty members, later splitting into two groups, one headed to Jackson, Miss., the other to Hattiesburg, Miss.
"It's amazing, the camaraderie and the spirit," Odom said, commenting on the morale of the makeshift convoy to Mississippi. Until Sept. 17, the band of nurses will live and work at or near special needs shelters, providing pivotal care to those in need of special care.
The relief effort was made possible by Lisa Eichelberger, Dean of Health Sciences at Clayton State University. She said she was unable to get a response from other agencies working the disaster.
"After the disaster in Mississippi and Louisiana, I called to the Mississippi Board of Nurses to offer them help with our nursing," Eichelberger said. "I don't think we've experienced a disaster of this magnitude. Things in Hattiesburg are not well."
The hurricane made a personal impression on her. She said she has family and colleagues in the region, where she still has no contact with some her friends and colleagues.
Thus, she spent her Labor Day weekend working out details, including recruiting students, re-arranging their classwork, procuring transportation and supplies, and completing housing and work arrangements.
She compared the offer to an effort in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo smashed the coast of Puerto Rico.
"When they returned from working in Puerto Rico, they said it was nothing like they've ever worked before. They were also very frustrated guess because the needs were so tremendous there.
"I don't know what the students will experience," she said.
"I'm going back and forth with being excited and nervous," said Stacey Clements, a senior in nursing at Clayton State. "I decided to become a nurse to help people, and this is a real good opportunity to do that."
Clements left with a pillow, a sleeping bag, bottled water, and some snacks.
"I knew I needed to be there for the people of these devastated areas," she said. "I am truly looking forward to being able to lend a helping hand in a time of need."
Karen Weaver, Ph.D. and associate professor of Nursing, Dora Weir, assistant professor of Nursing, and Carrie Dodson, an instructor of Nursing, have all joined in the effort to support survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
They, too, will be split into groups in Jackson and Hattiesburg, Miss.
Odom will volunteer at the Pearl River Community College Special Needs Shelter in Hattiesburg. Others will volunteer at the First Baptist Church Special Needs Shelter in Jackson.
"This is a very fluid situation and our students understood that before they committed to go," Eichelberger said. "Thanks to Sue, Dora, Carrie and Karen for being willing to go and help during this awful tragedy."
To help or donate, contact Clayton State University for the Nurse Disaster Relief Fund.