Alums Lead Disaster Response in Oklahoma

May. 23, 2013 - by Carol Best

Unruh and Orner Serve Where Needed Most

May 23, 2013
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Two MNU alumni are putting their expertise to work for Heart to Heart International’s tornado relief efforts in Moore, Okla. Erik Unruh, a 2010 grad with a Bachelor of Science in nursing, is a program specialist whose job is coordinating Heart to Heart’s mobile medical program in Kansas City.

The former ER nurse normally works with local “safety net clinics,” clinics committed to helping the under and uninsured in Kansas City, to increase their capacity to serve patients with the use of additional equipment and volunteer medical professionals. That work is on hold now while Erik takes on the role of incident commander for Heart to Heart’s crisis operation deployed to assist tornado victims in Moore. Erik is in Olathe at the organization’s headquarters overseeing the entire disaster response. The gargantuan tasks include logistics of equipment, supplies and personnel for the mobile medical unit.

The mobile medical unit team on the ground can perform minor surgeries, sutures, and all types of first aid for injuries such as sprains, minor cuts and giving vaccinations. The team includes five volunteers from Kansas City and many physicians, paramedics and nurses from the Oklahoma City area. The medical professionals must hold a license from Oklahoma in order to treat patients and write prescriptions, so the local assistance is vital according to Erik.

H2H Mobile MedA man needing more care is stabilized aboard the Mobile Medical Unit before being transported by ambulance. Photo courtesy Heart to Heart.

“We are pooling these resources to do a much greater good than we could alone,” Erik says. “We’ve had overwhelming support from volunteers who have shown up in Moore as well as those who contacted Heart to Heart to help us in KC.”

Starting today Erik’s team will start administering 4,000 tetanus vaccinations thanks to the donation of vaccine from health care giant Sanofi Pasteur. It takes a great deal of coordination to make this work as Erik explains they will team up with The University of Oklahoma Department of Family Medicine, the Cleveland County Health Department and Norman Regional Health System to administer the vaccine.

“This is important,” Erik explains. “With so much debris from the storm, people are at high risk for cuts, lacerations and nail punctures. This gives us an opportunity to prevent tetanus down the road.”

Crisis Care KitAny individual or group can organize a care kit drive. Photo courtesy Heart to Heart.

Erik reports that other Heart to Heart partners, B D and Johnson & Johnson are providing crisis care kits. Heart to Heart has shipped nearly 2,900 care kits to the area already. Volunteers will be in the organization’s warehouse assembling more this week. Care kits include items Erik calls universally essential to maintaining good health such as a hand towel and washcloth, a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap and bandages.

Another MNU alum, Carla Orner a 2001 graduate with a Master of Business Administration, is the site coordinator on the ground in Moore. Also based in Olathe, Orner has been in Moore with the team since Monday.

“Medically we are seeing a lot of nail punctures, laserations, stress and patients who are overheating while working on what is left of their homes and belongings,” Carla says. “People’s pharmaceuticals are gone and they need refills. We see high blood pressure, diabetes and all the chronic conditions that have been made worse because of what they’ve been through.”

In addition to this the mobile unit and its volunteers go into neighborhoods and distribute over-the-counter medication and first aid. When asked how the victims are holding up, Carla replied with one word, “stoic.” They are getting through the situation with the help of each other.

“We treated a woman who is four months pregnant,” Carla says. “She had gotten overheated while working in the only part of her home that is left, the master bedroom. Her husband was with her and she smiled and said, ‘we’re alive and we’ll be OK.’ Bless her heart.”

This is the third devastating tornado relief effort that Carla has experienced.

“I was in Greensburg [Kan.] and Joplin [Mo.],” Carla says. “I’ve seen it before. And this [devastation] is just as bad. Midwestern people are incredible. It doesn’t matter what happens to people. It’s their attitude, their faith and how they walk through it. It’s knowing that God’s there and they are going to be fine.”

Both Carla and Erik will get a break at the end of the week and others will deploy to take their place. As for how long Heart to Heart will be in Moore, Erik says they will continually evaluate the situation and determine a long term plan.


“We’re here to serve a critical need,” Erik says. “The crisis in Moore gives us the opportunity to meet people when they are most broken and vulnerable—to help them see that life goes on.”

To learn more about how to help tornado victims in Moore, visit http://www.hearttoheart.org.

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