Portland nurse joins relief effort in Philippines

A mother and her young child seek refuge in a damaged school in a neighborhood in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines in search of help last month.
Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua | MCT
A mother and her young child seek refuge in a damaged school in a neighborhood in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines in search of help last month.
Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 12:51 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A Portland woman is joining a national contingent of nurses on a relief trip to the Philippines, an island country still recovering from the deadliest typhoon ever to strike it.

Typhoon Haiyan, reportedly the strongest such storm to ever make landfall, hit the Southeast Asian country early last month, killing nearly 6,000 people.

On Monday, Lora Cook of Portland is scheduled to join the fourth National Nurses United group to make the trip to the Philippines since the typhoon. Cook and others with the contingent are expected to travel to the Panay island city of Roxas, which took the brunt of the storm and where an NNU group is already on the ground.

Along with Cook in the fourth team representing the NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network will be nurses from Massachusetts, Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona and California, according to a Sunday announcement issued by the national nurses organization.

In Roxas, Cook’s team will join other local and international health care groups “providing basic medical care, such as wound care, giving tetanus and other shots [and] offering critical stress debriefings,” according to the organization’s announcement.

Participants in previous medical missions to the area have provided glimpses into what Cook likely will encounter when she arrives.

Tim Launius, a registered nurse from Michigan who went on the second NNU trip to the region, stated that on his first day at the site, his team saw more than 300 patients who suffered injuries that had gone untreated for weeks. Survivors’ “makeshift housing was contaminated” by the storm surge and left residents prone to infections, making injuries worse while they waited for medical attention, Launius reported.

With reinforcements such as Cook coming to Roxas, NNU nurses will expand their focus to Estancia — also on Panay — where more than 2,000 people have been evacuated because of an oil spill driven ashore by the typhoon.

During the height of the typhoon, a power company barge reportedly was dislodged from its mooring, ran aground and leaked more than 50,000 gallons of oil.

According to the NNU announcement, the storm “dropped oil onto people’s homes, and clogged the air with crippling fumes, all of which exacerbated health risks for area residents.”

“The public health concerns for oil spills are many: asthma, heart disease, lung disease and cancer, shown through studies, are all leading to premature death,” Ashley Forsberg, another Michigan-based nurse who took part in the third NNU relief trip, in a statement. “These are the primary threats to humans and the oil spill further hinders a community’s economic livelihood and is devastating to your environment.”

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