Nurses aid recovery from typhoon in Philippines

Disaster: Unit mobilizes in less than 24 hours to help with overseas effort

of the HeraldDecember 4, 2013 

Lora and David York are emergency room nurses at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup, but when disaster strikes — no matter where in the world it may be — the couple wants to help those in need as quickly as possible.

At 1 a.m. Nov. 11, the Yorks traveled with a small team with EMPACT Northwest to Tacloban, a central city in the Philippines that was the hardest hit by super Typhoon Haiyan. The six-person team — three nurses, an EMT and two paramedics — made plans to travel in less than 24 hours.

Once they arrived, the team went into search-and-rescue mode. But with so many people injured and in need of treatment, the Yorks said the effort quickly turned into recovery mode.

“We’re a search-and-rescue team,” Lora York said. “When we got there, we weren’t really sure how this would look like. We quickly adapted to the changes that we saw. The people there were relieved we were thinking of them.”

David York said the EMPACT Northwest team was embedded with a subsidiary group of the Filipino National Police named the Special Action Force.

“Being a small, independent group, we can think on our feet,” David York said. “We don’t have that level of bureaucracy. One of the gems of this organization is we are able to adapt quickly on the ground and really affect change. This is one of the reasons why we were drawn to EMPACT.”

The Yorks said the group came in with enough food and water to be self-sustainable.

“As a team, we have some standards, such as we don’t want to put extra stress on the community,” David said. “We also know that transportation would be difficult. We were limited to what we could carry on our backs. We brought tents for our own shelter. In case there were no buildings to stay in, we could set up in a field.”

Lora said the team would have loved to have brought in more medical supplies.

“We are so fortunate in America,” Lora said. “We have all these resources that are readily available to us. There in Tacloban, they lost everything. Hospitals made of cement survived, but they lost all their supplies. They have no refrigeration to keep medicines cold. All machines were ruined. They are starting from ground zero.”

The Yorks said what stood out the most was when they saw the resiliency among the people of Tacloban.

“The people were beautiful there,” Lora said. “In leaving, they told us Merry Christmas. They celebrate it between November and December.”

Jake Gillanders was the leader of the team and one of the paramedics. Others on the team were paramedic David Schmidt, EMT Sil Wong-Knoblich, and Sarah Fo’Sheezy, a nurse and translator.

Following the 2004 tsunami that struck Sri Lanka, the island country off the coast of India, a Sri Lankan doctor at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital assembled a team to travel to the country and help in the recovery. David and Lora York both went on the trip. They worked different shifts at the hospital at the time.

After the trip, they started dating. They’ve been married for seven years.

“Every year, we try to do an overseas trip,” Lora said. “It usually involves doing medical aid. It’s part of who we are and what we’re called to do.”

Part of EMPACT Northwest’s mission is to help with recovery, but it’s also to return to the area to continue in the rebuilding effort, the Yorks said. The organization was founded in 2010 as a nonprofit organization in response to the earthquake in Haiti.

“We’ve turned Haiti into a long-term project,” Lora said. “We’ve gone from direct care to ongoing training and continuing education.”

The organization now trains EMTs in Haiti to help the country year-round.

EMPACT Northwest is fully funded with donations. The Yorks thanked the Puyallup Tribe of Indians’ funding support to EMPACT’s emergency search-and-rescue equipment.

The Yorks plan to return to the Philippines to help in the ongoing effort.

“This is something you can’t get out of your memory,” Lora said. “This will be years of rebuilding.”

More online

For more information about EMPACT Northwest’s work overseas, visit www.empactnorthwest.org.

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at andrew.fickes@ puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.

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