UPDATE: Hurricane Harvey leaves widespread devastation; AOA leading donation effort

August 28, 2017
How you can help support doctors of optometry affected by Harvey.

The AOA is rallying support for storm-besieged colleagues in Texas through Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, as doctors of optometry continue to contend with Hurricane Harvey's torrential rainfall and historic flooding.

The worst hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast since 2005, Hurricane Harvey made landfall southwest of Houston on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm. Since, the stalled tropical storm has dropped more than 30 inches of rain over southeast Texas with another 1½ feet forecast through Wednesday, prompting a call for more widespread evacuations and emergency orders.

Now tracking toward Louisiana, the record-breaking storm is far from over with still several more days of disastrous flooding anticipated. In its path are thousands of communities and doctors of optometry, prepared for the worst.

The AOA stands by all of those affected by this storm and is reaching out to doctors and students, offering messages of unity and support, while encouraging all members to help their colleagues in need.

"While we do not yet know how many of our hundreds of Texas doctors of optometry may be affected by this storm, the AOA and our fellow members stand with you all and are at the ready to provide the assistance needed personally and through Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief," says AOA President Christopher J. Quinn, O.D

"AOA leadership is stepping up donations and asking all members of our optometric family to do the same so that we can ensure doctors of optometry are able to do what they do best—help their patients in need," Dr. Quinn says.

Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief, a program of Optometry Cares ®—The AOA Foundation , is optometry's exclusive financial support program that provides immediate assistance to those in need in the wake of natural disasters. The fund has provided more than $579,600 in support since its inception in 2005.

Waiting it out

Danica Marrelli, O.D., of Pearland, Texas, was astonished by the devastation wrought since Friday when Hurricane Harvey made landfall. And to make matters worse, many more inches of rain are forecast for the suburb just south of Houston.

"I've lived here my whole life, and I've never seen this type of damage," Dr. Marrelli said Monday. "It is absolutely heartbreaking and it will take months and months to recover."

Dr. Marrelli, the Ocular Diagnostic and Medical Eye Service director at University of Houston College of Optometry, sheltered at home with her family through the weekend's worst. Her neighborhood saw several homes take on water, and the subdivision's main thoroughfare was still inundated Monday morning. There's little to do but sit and wait for the waters to recede, Dr. Marrelli says—and hope the power doesn't go out.

A few miles over, the flooding is expansive and may get worse. Dr. Marrelli says many of the bayous and rivers spilled over in the night, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was forced to open two brimming flood-control dams Monday that would impact thousands of area residents.

"Nearly all of the major freeways that lead into Houston from the suburbs are still underwater," Dr. Marrelli says.

It's a moving target, how long it could take for those freeways to open again. But, at the end of one of those freeways, the College of Optometry anticipates flooding and recovery efforts to keep the campus closed through Labor Day. Unfortunately, new students had just begun their first week of optometry school—many of which aren't used to hurricanes or flooding. That's why, prior to the storm, Dr. Marrelli and other college staff helped students prepare for what to expect. Before landfall, staff also went through the academic offices and clinic, unplugging and moving electronics off the ground or onto another floor altogether. Now elevated and covered, there's not much more they can do, Dr. Marrelli says. Regrettably, the same is true for those still in the storm's path.

"We are just heartbroken for those who have been less fortunate than we have," Dr. Marrelli says. "Still, the spirit of Texans, and Houstonians, in particular, is strong and we will get through this together."

On Monday, through an email from the Texas Optometric Association, its past president Brian Blount offered his wisdom and tips on "simple things that you can do quickly to protect your assets and livelihood after the storm" to impacted members.

Doctors evacuate as Hurricane Harvey slams Texas

Ahead of landfall, the winds from Hurricane Harvey had been clocked at 130 miles per hour. The National Weather Service warned, "Rainfall of this magnitude will cause catastrophic and life-threatening flooding." Parts of Louisiana also may see flooding as the hurricane moves along the coast. 

Among those who evacuated ahead of the storm were John McIntyre, O.D., and other eye doctors at his Corpus Christi, Texas, practice, which was expected to bear the brunt of the storm when it came inland. He was waiting out the storm with his elderly parents.

Prior to the storm, a message was posted for patients on the practice's social media page: "We will be closing Thursday at 3 p.m. due to the weather. And we are going to be closed tomorrow and Saturday as well. We will keep (you) posted about Sunday and Monday. Be safe everyone!"

"The seven other docs also evacuated like I did," Dr. McIntyre said late Friday afternoon. "Some live in low-lying flood areas so they needed to leave, and others have young families, and if Corpus Christi loses electricity, that would be a problem.

On Sunday, the practice posted a new note on their social media page:

"We will re-open on Tuesday Aug 29th. We hope everyone has been safe during this crisis! We will continue to pray for all those who have been affected by this storm."

Fred Farias, O.D., a member of the AOA Board of Trustees, who practices further inland in McAllen, Texas, says he had received calls from concerned friends—including fellow doctors of optometry—checking on him. 

Watching the storm reports on Friday, Dr. Farias had called home to check on his family. They were expecting rain, too, in McAllen, but not the huge amount predicted for the coast. 

"There are a lot of colleagues who may get hit," says Dr. Farias, who had reached out to his "good friend" Dr. McIntyre. "I'm praying for them and hoping everything is OK. 

"You're always concerned about hurricanes," he adds. "The AOA has resources to help our colleagues." 

Moved to action

As she watched news of the devastation, Cyndie Baker, O.D., was moved to donate to the AOA disaster fund. That's because, a little over a year ago, Dr. Baker's own practice of more than 30 years was devastated by historic flooding in adjoining Louisiana. During one week in August 2016, an estimated 7 trillion gallons of rain fell on southeast Louisiana. Thirteen people died and thousands of homes were damaged. Dr. Baker's practice in Denham Springs, Louisiana, was among them.

It took seven weeks for Dr. Baker to start seeing patients again in her practice, which had to be rebuilt from the studs up.

In 2016, the AOA disaster fund dispensed $78,000, most of it to doctors of optometry hard-hit by historic flooding in Louisiana. The fund was started in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and since then has given $579,600 worth of grants to about 310 doctors of optometry affected by disasters.

"We all need to contribute to the fund," says Dr. Baker, who was keeping her own watchful eye on the forecast as rain from Hurricane Harvey was casting bands of rain as far away as Denham Springs, Louisiana. "We all need to pull together. I can't imagine how many doctors of optometry will be hit."

Optometry's Fund for Disaster Relief

To apply for aid or donate to the cause, visit aoafoundation.org/OFDR.
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