Nurses returning from Harvey aftermath grateful for opportunity

As dozens of UT Southwestern nurses gathered to return to Dallas after serving patients at MD Anderson Cancer Center for two weeks following the floods from Hurricane Harvey, the tears were flowing.

“Everyone was crying and that really hit home, knowing we had such an impact,” said Nicole Hartsell, an RN at 6N who worked in MD Anderson’s breast care clinic.

More than 40 nurses from UT Southwestern clinics and Zale Lipshy and William P. Clements Jr. University Hospitals volunteered for the two-week duty at sister UT institution MD Anderson in Houston to provide relief for the nursing staff and aid patients as they made their way back to the cancer center for treatments.

Melissa Rios, a 6N RN who ended up roommates with Ms. Hartsell, provided preop care in the endoscopy clinic.

“It was impressive to see – there was a lot of damage, which was sad to see, but we saw so many people helping each other,” said Ms. Rios, who was inspired by her faith to join the contingent.

She wasn’t sure what to expect when they headed down. “I thought we were going to walk into water, but they had things running. It wasn’t all normal, but they did a great job keeping things going and helping their patients,” she said, noting she met patients who had driven nine hours to get to the center for treatments.

Mary Garcia, an RN from 7N, helped with IVs in the MD Anderson infusion clinic for numerous patients who were relieved to get back to their care.

“They were so grateful and we were grateful to be able to help,” she said.

Some patients hadn’t been able to access care and had become very ill, said Rodney Skidmore, an RN from 8N.

“It was very humbling. Some hadn’t had their chemo in a while. There were some having a very hard time,” he said, recalling a patient with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who was concerned she wouldn’t survive. “I told her the story of a friend of mine with AML who got better and told her I still believe in miracles. I like to get on a personal level with people, so they can be relaxed. They’re facing enough.”

Mr. Skidmore, who stepped up because “it was the right thing to do,” said he was further inspired after volunteering one night at a shelter during his downtime there.

“They’re doing better than expected,” he said. “Texans take care of Texans. It made me proud to be a Texan.”

Nguyet Tuong, a surgical oncology RN at 11N who had previously worked at MD Anderson, said she was particularly pleased to be able to return and help her fellow nurses there. “There were people who had lost their car or their house and needed time to get settled. They were so grateful,” she said.

Susan Hernandez, M.B.A., B.S.N., RN, Health System Chief Nurse Executive for UT Southwestern University Hospitals, said the nurses were all pleased to be able to join in the relief for nurses at their sister institution. “We all have the same calling and share the same desire to make sure patients get the care they need no matter what challenges stand in the way.”