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New PT joins Island Therapy Center

By Staff | Oct 26, 2017

Michelle, Kingston and Dan Ream, with their miniature dachshund PeeWee. PHOTO PROVIDED

A new resident of the island was unsure if he would still have a place to live, or the opportunity to start his first day at his new position last month after living through two category five hurricanes and then seeing the path of one going towards Southwest Florida.

“Right now it would be great to get back to work and do what I love to do and work with people and see people get better,” Dan Ream said. “We are excited to settle into our new place, get our career stuff going and relax and feel kind of at home again because this last month and a half has been pretty crazy. We are excited about starting this new chapter down here.”

The family is excited about becoming a member of the community, while enjoying all the outdoor activities the island has to offer.

Ream and his family, wife Michelle, 19-month-old son Kingston and miniature dachshund PeeWee, finally arrived on Sanibel last Tuesday, Oct. 17. His first day on the job was late last week at Island Therapy Center.

What originally started off as athletic training for his undergrad at the University of Central Missouri changed courses after a few years when he started questioning his degree. A close friend of his who switched to physical therapy got Ream to thinking maybe he should too, which ultimately turned into a great career change.

“It’s very rewarding. It’s definitely fun when you see someone come in with an injury, or condition, or difficulty of some kind and after working with them, if they can do it now, or something is better, or they are smiling more and happy, that’s definitely the icing on the cake,” Ream said.

His wife, Michelle, grew up vacationing on Sanibel as a young girl, which eventually led Ream to visiting the island for the first time in 2008.

“We actually got married on South Seas in 2009,” he said.

After tying the knot, the couple spent time vacationing on Sanibel and Captiva, as well as the Virgin Islands for a week or so at both destinations over the years.

Ream quickly fell in love with Sanibel and Captiva because there was something special about the islands, not only the beaches and shelling, but the vibe and atmosphere.

“From the first time I came down here with her, I left saying it didn’t feel like you were in Florida. It doesn’t have that feel that you are sitting in the states. It has more of that Caribbean, more low key, more laid back and take it easy kind of vibe,” Ream said.

The couple found a long term rental place on Sanibel and moved into their new place late last Tuesday.

After graduation, the couple stayed in Missouri for two years while Ream worked at a private practice. From there the couple moved to the Virgin Islands where he further practiced physical therapy for a little more than four years.

Ream said he worked at two different private practices, both where he was the lead therapist.

“I worked for one person, but two companies,” he said due to the merging of the first practice into the second.

Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria changed the plans of originally starting as the new physical therapist at Island Therapy Center in early October. The family hunkered down at their apartment in St. Thomas and braced the two hurricanes.

“We stayed at home and got prepared with food and water for a few weeks,” Ream said. “Looking back we might have gotten more stuff if we knew it was going to be so big and long.”

Hurricane Irma made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 6, as a Category 5 storm. He said it was moving 16-18 miles per hour, and the storm was more than 500 miles wide.

“I think it noticeably started at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the sixth and probably didn’t stop until around 8 p.m. that night, so 10 hours of wind and rain,” Ream said. “It was really loud and windy. I think they said, the little weather station on the east end of St. Thomas recorded 200 mile per hour sustained winds and gusts over 225.”

The hurricane, he said was mostly a wind event.

Irma was his second experience with a hurricane, with Hurricane Isaac being his first. Ironically he was vacationing on Captiva at the time.

Hurricane Irma caused the power to go out around 11:30 a.m., noon that Wednesday. Ream said as of last week about 85 percent of the island still did not have power.

Once the wind began picking up, the family went back to their bedroom to be a little more protected. When the winds intensified even more they sought refuge for about three hours in a little storage room, a sealed structure within their apartment.

“It was wait until it gets light the next day and walk out on the porch and look around to see what the heck happened. That was probably the worst . . . seeing this lush hillside with green and trees, just that natural setting . . . it was just gone. All you could see was houses, what was left of houses, and ground dirt hillside with bare brown trees,” Ream said. “It looked like wintertime in the midwest when it gets desolate. There was no green, no leaves at all. It was just nothing but brown.”

Because of all the lost vegetation, he said they saw roads and houses they did not know existed.

There were thousands of trees down and power poles, he recalled. Ream said the island’s hurricane holes, where the boats are parked, did not fare well. One in particular, he said, all but four boats sank, out of more than 75 boats.

A combination of a sound structured building, and being located about two-thirds up a ridge helped in slightly protecting Ream and his family from the hurricane.

“Irma passed just to the north of us. The eye was a couple miles to the north of St. Thomas,” he said. “The pressure was so weird. When the strong gusts came you had to pop your ears.”

For the next two days after the hurricane, the island was on a 24-hour curfew, so they could not leave their apartment. The third day individuals were allowed to leave their house for a slotted period of time during the day.

With the curfew hours, Ream recalls standing in line outside of a grocery store for 90 minutes before being allowed to grab a few items. He said only a certain number of people were able to go inside the store at a time.

Thirteen days later, Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria, another category five storm, made landfall further south from where the Ream family was living. The winds averaged about 150 miles per hour and made landfall about 8 p.m.

“It passed right off the southern point of St. Croix, which was about 40 miles south from us,” he said. “The eye of the storm was maybe 60 miles south of us.”

Hurricane Maria brought a lot more rain to the island.

“With Irma, that was all wind and it ripped everything apart. Now you have all these people with all the roof damage, wall damage . . . the land is bare because you had everything ripped to shreds and now you get all of this rain. Now there is all kinds of flooding, landslides and mudslides and more water damage,” Ream said of the 18 inches of rain the hurricane produced.

Throughout the storms, a local radio station kept everyone informed. Ream said it acted as a call center, as well as an information outlet for the islanders.

“They did an amazing job at keeping the island community interconnected with what is going on,” Ream said. “That was definitely a lifeline for everyone to have that connection.”

On Sept. 30 the family left St. Thomas and headed back to Missouri with as many belongings as they could, since the plan was to move to Sanibel to start the new job. Their son, Kingston and dog PeeWee stayed with his in-laws, while the couple headed back to the island to pack their remaining belongings.

After the hurricanes passed through, Ream said they had several mercy flights and cruises that were offering free rides to such areas as Miami.

Once the airport opened, such airlines as American and Delta waived bags up to 10, as well as pet fees.

“We had all of our bags packed up and lined up ready to go. We stayed at one of our friends houses the night before,” Ream said. “We had a bunch of rain starting Friday afternoon and all Friday night. We were coming back to our house Saturday morning. We came down one road and it was all flooded and cars stuck in the water,” Ream said, resulting in taking another route. “We looped all the way around and come back around. We are about maybe a quarter, half mile away from our house on the side ride. We come down this hill and there are two huge mudslides blocking the road.”

As more people started clearing the mudslide, they were able to set up an assembly line as the bags were passed from one person to the next.

“We were excited. It was three and a half weeks post Irma and we were all excited to go and we were like ‘we are not missing this flight,'” Ream said.

During that almost four weeks, the family had a generator, which ran for two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening.

“We had five hours of electricity and running water throughout the day,” Ream said.

The experience showed him how much a community comes together after a natural disaster.

“It was really cool to see the whole island community coming together and doing whatever they could to help each other out,” he said. “It was more meaningful to see the island community, the people that live there, being more proactive and coming together. The island community was starting their rebuilding and recovery process on their own, which speaks volumes for their sense of compassion for friends and neighbors and their pride in their island and community.”

Ream said his office sort of got back to work following the hurricanes by calling their patients and asking them about their welfare.

“It was more of seeing people and talking to people and having that social interaction again. It was the biggest uplifting thing we had for our office and the people. Just to see the smiles. It was a therapy session in its own, it was mentally, spiritually and emotionally lift you up kind of thing,” Ream said.

When he left St. Thomas most everyone was still out of work due to the two Category 5 hurricanes.

“It was a bummer to leave the Virgin Islands like we did. That was our home for more than four years,” Ream said. “We didn’t imagine our last month of our island Caribbean life would be the chaos that it was.”