PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When superstorm Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey areas in October, many looked on helplessly as residents suffered in the destruction.
But David Horne, a doctor at The Aroostook Medical Center, knew exactly what to do. He packed up his doctor’s bag and hit the road.
Horne, a dermatologist at TAMC, took part in the first deployment of Doctors Without Borders on American soil. It was also his first time working with the humanitarian aid organization, which sends doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to countries facing endemic diseases, often in war-torn regions.
According to information provided by Doctors Without Borders, the organization mobilized as Sandy swept through New York City, knocking out power and public transportation for days. The group established temporary emergency clinics in the Rockaway, a remote part of Queens that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Personnel then set out to tend to residents of high-rises that were without heat and power.
Horne said he learned of the deployment of Doctors Without Borders through two friends who are directors at the field office in New York.
They had put out a call to everyone they knew with only three requirements to participate — the physician had to have a license to practice medicine in New York, a prescription pad, and the willingness to serve.
“I knew that I wanted to do it right away,” he said during an interview Thursday. “I really didn’t have to think about it too much.”
Horne has a license to practice medicine in New York because he also practices there. Horne splits his time between Aroostook County and New York City, where he is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Cornell University Medical College and has a private practice. Horne comes to TAMC once a month to see patients for five days, and then spends two days treating patients in Houlton.
After Horne signed up, he worked for four days in Rockaway. He was put to work using a laundry room of one of the high-rise, low-income apartment buildings as a makeshift clinic for two days. He spent the other two days climbing up and down countless flights of stairs in the buildings, checking on residents and helping those in need of medical attention.
“There was just so much property damage,” he said. “Some of the roads had sand in them, and you’d look out and see a boat in the middle of the street. In the buildings I was in, there was no power, there was no heat.
“Since the elevators weren’t in service, people who were too sick or not able to climb up and down the stairs were isolated. Many of the pharmacies nearby were actually destroyed or had not reopened, so you had people with chronic health conditions that maybe were out of their medicines. Those were the people I spent a lot of time helping.”
Horne said doctors collaborated with the National Guard and firefighters to get some of those in need of help out of their buildings and to area hospitals.
“The first couple of days, we had to get medications from a pharmacy in Brooklyn,” he said.
Some of his patients included a heart attack victim and a 14-year-old cancer patient.
Providing such treatment was not foreign to Horne.
As a medical student in the rural south, he was required to do house calls as part of his training at the Medical University of South Carolina. He has been coming to TAMC since 2006, and he wanted to help the people of Aroostook County because there was a need for his services in the area.
“There was a need and I wanted to ensure that the people of Aroostook County could access the kind of services that might not otherwise be offered locally,” he said.
Horne said his first experience with Doctors Without Borders was positive, and he said he would “definitely” work with them again.
“It was hard work in difficult conditions, since there was a lot of climbing up and down stairs when it was cold and there was no power,” he noted. “But it was an honor to go into people’s homes and check in on them to make sure they were OK, to take their vital signs, and determine if they needed further medical treatment. It was interesting and rewarding.”