by Ashley Barker
Days after Hurricane
Sandy hit the east coast of the United
States — leveling neighborhoods, flooding
streets and killing more than a hundred
people — three MUSC employees were
deployed to New York to provide medical
assistance to homeless victims.
director of business reporting and IT in
the Department of Pediatrics; Sean
Carroll, patient care technician on 6
East; and Amy Funderburk, a nurse in the
neuroscience intensive care unit; were
sent to Manhattan and Long Island for a
two-week medical deployment as part of the
Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT).
Most states in America have one or more
DMAT teams — consisting of doctors,
nurses, therapists, pharmacists, etc. —
that work under the National Disaster
Medical System (NDMS), a federal program
that sends teams of medical professionals
into emergency areas and disaster zones.
from left, Amy Funderburk, R.N., and
Philippe Gresle, were deployed to New
York to assist victims of Hurricane
Sandy through the Disaster Medical
Thirty five members of
South Carolina's DMAT were deployed at
dawn on Nov. 3, with only a few hours'
notice, to relieve a team from California
and returned home in time for
Thanksgiving. During that time, Carroll,
who has been a member of DMAT since 2002,
worked 192 hours. This wasn't his first
interaction with victims of a natural
disaster. He was deployed to Galveston,
Texas, after hurricanes Gustav and Ike
hit, and to Louisiana following Hurricane
Katrina to help with electronic medical
records that keep track of patients.
"Being out there with
patients who are telling you their story,
you just feel like that's what you need to
do," Carroll said. "They were telling us
that they lost everything. One of our
patients was saying that he was so
grateful that we were there to help him.
He was thankful that he had people
watching over him 24 hours-a-day, a roof
over his head, three square meals a day,
and all the help he needed."
Carroll, Gresle and
Funderburk spent the majority of their
deployment in a gymnasium at Nassau
Community College that was transformed
into a shelter for nearly 800 people. They
each took enough food and water to survive
for 72 hours without draining the local
resources, and they slept on small cots
after working 16 – 18 hour days.
"It just changes some
perspectives here at MUSC on how patients
are handling their situation, even though
they haven't lost their house here when
they're in the hospital," Carroll said.
The team's main
responsibilities included providing
medication refills to patients who had
time-sensitive needs such as cardiac
conditions or diabetes. The team was also
concerned with emergencies and an outbreak
of the norovirus, or GI bug.
"Their doctors are not
reachable. The pharmacies are all
destroyed," Gresle, who spent 10 years as
an EMT for Charleston County, said. "It
was a pretty heavy logistical nightmare."
The city of Manhattan
was completely eerie, according to Gresle.
"We were standing in the middle of
Broadway, and there wasn't a single car
running and maybe 10 people in the street.
It was like they had shut down the city to
shoot a movie. It was like the
Living in what seemed
like the end of the world helped create an
intense bond for everyone involved. The
patients knew that the DMAT members were
on rotating shifts so that someone would
always be available, but they also knew
that eventually the teams would be
replaced with new ones. That didn't stop
one patient from connecting with Gresle,
"You're becoming their
little rock of sanity when they've lost
everything," he said. Gresle remembers an
80-year-old lady, who he described as
frail, abrasive and a little demanding.
She was alone at the shelter and was
Gresle took five
minutes one evening to talk with her about
her family. When he was done, he told her
good night and stood up to leave. With a
sudden look of sadness, she asked him,
"Are you going to be back tomorrow?" He
explained to her that his shift was over,
but he would return the next day. She
responded, "Oh good. That gives me
something to look forward to."
"A hurricane swept her
house away. That's how quickly it
happened. She might have lived in that
house her whole life, for all we know,"
Gresle said. "Then she lost everything.
Literally, she had her clothes and a bag.
The fact that she needed something to look
forward to the next day, that was very
Moments like that are
what pushed the team members to continue
"Whether you're an EMT
or a nurse, we've all experienced the
craziness of a demanding shift. But it's
still fairly short in time. Then you go
back to your home," Gresle said. "The
craziness lasted for two weeks. For two
weeks, you don't go back to a good night's
sleep. You're on non-stop. It's
exhilarating but at the same time it's
The DMAT team
members from MUSC spent the majority of
their medical deployment in a gymnasium
at Nassau Community College that was
transformed into a shelter.
Gresle said that one of
the South Carolina team members explained
the deployment in the best way. He said,
"These were the longest two weeks ever,
but they went by like a breeze."
Funderburk felt the
same way when she returned home. "It was
fabulous," she said. "It's kind of a
horrible thing to say because it was such
a sad situation. But we were fortunate to
be so welcomed by the people in New York.
Even in the airport, they were clapping
She also developed a
connection with one of her patients, a
95-year-old man who lost his home and all
of his belongings during the storm,
including pictures of his deceased wife.
"Every day he got up
and was walking around saying 'good
morning' and 'how are you doing today?' It
really showed the human spirit," she said.
"He had an unbelievable attitude, and it
really made me look at my life and the
things I take for granted."
When their deployment
was finished, the South Carolina team was
replaced by teams from Arizona and Alaska.
The members of South Carolina's DMAT will
soon go back on emergency call on a
rotating basis. To find out more
information, visit http://ndms.dhhs.gov.