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Local team aids storm victims; Group shares experience from Galveston Island

By Staff | Oct 15, 2008

A dedicated team of 32 local medical professionals recently returned from its mission of mercy on Galveston Island with many tales to tell.

The volunteer team was part of FL2-DMAT, which stands for Florida Two Disaster Medical Assistance Team, manned by residents from Lee and Charlotte counties.

“It’s a group of medical professionals, which includes physicians, paramedics, EMTs, nurses and more, who volunteered their time to help disaster victims on Galveston Island,” said Chuck Poveromo, communications specialist and North Fort Myers resident.

“The team stayed 12 days to open up the emergency room at the University of Texas Medical Branch, a complex of seven hospitals and a prison,” he said. “We opened up the emergency room, with two helicopters and maybe 15 or 20 ambulances staged right outside of the hospital.”

There were about 5,000 people who did not leave Galveston Island during the recent hurricane, and the city of Galveston had about approximately 50,000 people.

“We were the only facility open,” he said. “It was four days after the event.”

The commander of the team was Robert Hendrickson from Punta Gorda. Poveromo and Lorraine Milligan are both residents of Tara Woods in North Fort Myers. Sandra Brazelton also came from the North Fort Myers area, and Cape Coral medical professionals included Bruce Gottschalk, Connie Bowles, Don Bisson and Mike Sischo.

Also from Cape Coral was Peter Lugo, who married Terri Harn from Lehigh Acres while the crew there was doing its humanitarian work.

“That was really special,” said Poveromo. “Peter is a security officer and Terri is a medical technician. We all had a good time at their wedding. We couldn’t drink because we were on duty, so we had apple cider. One of our members, Nelson Mesa, a paramedic, is also an ordained minister and married them.”

It was a busy time, Poveromo said. Their local crew worked nights, and another team from Iowa worked the day shift.

“People were grateful to see us,” he said.

They had a curfew from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. immediately following the disaster.

“The only way people could get to the hospital after 6 p.m. was by ambulance. They would call, and we would take them there and back home if it was minor,” he said.

If it was major, they would fly them to Houston to use services there.

It was an unbelievable experience, he added.

“We had no sewers, they had to put in porta potties,” Poveromo said. “There were dead cows in Galveston Bay that took several days to remove, and the smell was overpowering. There were also two tigers loose on the island and many snakes.”

They ate MREs, which are military rations.

“We washed our clothes in portable showers and had two big tents, one for the guys, one for the girls,” he said. “It was difficult sleeping because the helicopters were flying overhead all day. We slept days because we worked nights. But like anything else, you get used to it, because we knew we were doing a good thing.”

They also administered prescriptions for those who needed it.

“No one was allowed off or on the island until the last day we were there, so that was needed,” he said.

Two teams from Massachusetts relieved them.

It was an experience, he said, none of them will regret or forget.