Connecticut doctors look back at Katrina mission 10 years ago

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Ten years ago, all most people could do was sit and stare as Hurricane Katrina attacked the Gulf Coast.

“I started watching the storm approach from the gulf like everybody else, sort of became glued to the television set,” remembered Orange pediatrician Dr. Jim Morgan.

Then he and some other Connecticut doctors decided to do more than just watch, even if some were not sure what they could do.

“I’m watching the news and I’m picturing people who have life-threatening issues,” said Guilford chiropractor Dr. James Cianciolo. “Maybe they didn’t need a chiropractor.”

Nevertheless, chiropractor, pediatrician, cardiologist, all got on a jet with donated supplies and became the Connecticut Medical Response Team. News 8 was there, both when the doctors got on the plane, and when they got to work in storm-ravaged Mississippi. The team first went to Memorial Hospital in Gulfport.

“We went to the hospital, they didn’t quite know where to put us,” Dr. Cianciolo remembered. “Then these other folks came in an ambulance.”

“And they said, ‘We’re sort of in the same predicament. We don’t have a place to go,'” remembered Dr. Morgan. “And we said, ‘You guys have the wheels, you have the ambulance, let’s sort of set up a mobile team.'”

So a father and son ambulance crew from Osage, Mo. joined the Connecticut doctors and their truck full of supplies. They left the hospital in Gulfport every morning and went out into the backwoods and bayous, visiting Red Cross centers and gymnasiums that were set up as shelters for people who lost their homes in the storm.

It turned out, many of them were happy to see a chiropractor because they had been sleeping on cots for a week or more. They had no access to doctors or medicine. Dirt, disease, and infections were everywhere. The Connecticut teams delivered countless tetanus shots, as well as basic hygiene supplies. Meanwhile, Katrina’s destruction was all around them.

“I remember seeing a big brick church with all the bricks knocked out,” said Dr. Morgan. “This was a huge church, and all that was left standing was the steel frame.”

Ten years later, the extent of Katrina’s damage is still sharp in their memories and amazing in its scope. Doctor Cianciolo has been back to the region several times because two of his children went to college in Louisiana.

“It’s a very big deal for them down there to not forget and to kind of keep plowing ahead and try to keep improving,” Dr. Cianciolo said.

Doctor Morgan went to New Orleans a year after Katrina to build homes with a church group.

“But I took a day and drove back over to Gulfport, just to see what they had done in the course of a year,” Dr. Morgan said. His reaction to the progress? “Absolutely amazed at how they were coming back and what they had rebuilt.”

That progress is thanks, in part, to generous people from Connecticut and all over the country who decided to come to the gulf coast and help out.

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