Doctors of optometry eye recovery from record flooding in Louisiana
Call it the tale of two optometric practices.
Words can't express how overwhelmed we are with what our colleagues and family have done for us.
Since record flooding in mid-August devastated southeast Louisiana, doctors of optometry have been rebuilding their lives-floor tile by floor tile, light fixture by light fixture, slit lamp by slit lamp.
In Denham Springs, Louisiana, for instance, Cyndie Baker, O.D., hopes to reopen any day now. They are working toward seeing their first patients, since the flood, on Monday.
"The painters were steadily working over last weekend and the carpet was being installed." Dr. Baker says. "It is getting very exciting, and we are planning to reopen before the end of this week."
Says Christopher Wroten, O.D., who also practices in Denham Springs with his wife, Sarah Wroten, O.D., and his partner, Richard Hunter Bond, O.D.: "We are seeing patients in our other two offices, at least. But we're probably four to six weeks away from reopening our office in Denham Springs. Recovery is going slower than we hoped, but with God's help and the continued support of our family and friends, we know we'll make it through."
They could appreciate the plight of people living in the path of Hurricane Matthew, which was pummeling the Florida coastline on Friday. Dr. Baker spent much of Thursday trying to convince her son in Georgia and in-laws in Florida to move to a safer location. "I am very concerned about all of the optometrists that might be impacted by the hurricane," she said. "My thoughts, heart and prayers go out to them."
AOA member Weslie Hamada, OD, was among the 1,500 employees of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida, who were informed that their office was closing ahead of the monstrous storm.
"The safety and health of employees is the first priority," says Dr. Hamada, who was hunkered down along with her two dogs at the home of a co-worker on Friday. Her beachfront home was under mandatory evacuation.
"It has been very tense and nerve-wracking," she says. "There are a lot of unknowns, since most of us have not experienced a hurricane this magnitude in our lifetimes. I'm feeling uneasy not knowing what will happen to my house. We are six hours away from the storm hitting our area, Jacksonville. We are watching the news and hearing the number of power outages taking place and waiting until it happens here. The winds and rains are picking up. We have been getting alerts on our phones: 'hurricane approaching, seek shelter now.'"
Pouring rain and blessings
Nearly 7 trillion gallons of rain fell during the course of a week in southeast Louisiana. Thirteen people died and by some accounts more than 100,000 homes were damaged. The Red Cross classified it as the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy four years earlier.
Dr. Baker and Dr. Wroten praised the support they received from all corners, including funds from colleagues and Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, a program of Optometry Cares®-The AOA Foundation.
Also, the Optometry Association of Louisiana (OAL) raised almost $100,000 from donations, which assisted 20 doctors for uninsured losses, says James Sandefur, O.D., the OAL's executive director. Donations came from 265 individuals, 15 optometry associations and two schools of optometry, Dr. Sandefur says.
Dr. Baker thanked various sources, including the AOA, the OAL and fellow optometrist, Brandon Wax, O.D., for allowing her staff to dispense glasses and contact lenses to her patients at his office.
"Blessings continue to pour in," Dr. Baker says. "The money helped me to quickly start renovating my building. I would like to thank everyone who made donations. I also would like to thank Dr. Emily Bussey [AOA member] for all of her help and advice on my building. She has been too kind. There is no way to explain how much I appreciate the kindness and generosity that has been bestowed upon me."
"The AOA disaster fund has been such a blessing," Dr. Wroten says. "It was an extremely quick and easy process, and the funds were the first support to arrive and were a huge psychological boost. I strongly encourage anyone in need to apply, and for those not in need, would encourage them to support it. Every little bit helps.
"We've gotten all our employees back to work and have been able to avoid layoffs, thanks to our other two offices being able to see patients," he adds. "Words can't express how overwhelmed we are with what our colleagues and family have done for us. 'Thank you' seems so inadequate. It's extremely humbling, but appreciated more than they will ever know."
Back to normal
It will be at least five or six months before the Wrotens' house can be rebuilt. As for the practice in Denham Springs, it's looking like more than a month before it can reopen.
Dr. Baker, who has been in practice for more than 30 years, sees the finish line. "I have been very busy selecting optometric equipment and making decisions on design, tile, granite, flooring, light fixtures, paint, stain, furnishings, plumbing supplies, knobs, appliances, mirrors and doors," Dr. Baker says.
"My staff has been very helpful with many of these decisions, and we have been shopping together all over Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and online. They're busy making sure we have all the supplies we need: contact lenses, frames and printed materials. They're manning the phone lines, taking orders, making appointments and dispensing glasses and contact lenses.
"My new equipment will be delivered and installed along with all new computers and phone system," she adds. "My amazing contractor changed my floor plan from two exam lanes to four, added a new lab and pretest room, expanded the business office and added two additional rooms. He drilled through the slab, moved waterlines, updated the electrical system and added LED lighting throughout the building. With the new air-conditioning units and added insulation, I will have a highly energy-efficient building. Everything will be brand new and state of the art."