Volunteer left an impression

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 4, 2000

A disaster brings people together.

Friday, August 04, 2000

A disaster brings people together.

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Neighbors help neighbors, and sometimes strangers intervene.

Lucie Ferrell was such a person for the victims of the July 9-10 flooding in Austin.

The registered nurse is a trained American Red Cross volunteer and lent her special skills and expertise to families devastated by the recent flooding.

There are others, to be sure. For instance, retired banker Joe Collins acquitted himself admirably as an enthusiastic volunteer who, Elaine Hansen said, "did everything asked of him and more."

There were dozens of others from both the Mower County chapter of the American Red Cross and the St. Paul chapter, who Hansen, executive director of the local chapter, hailed for their work in the aftermath of the flooding.

Frequently, Hansen said the volunteers "interrupted their lives to help others," and there is no better example than registered nurse Ferrell.

"I was supposed to be in Paris this week, but here I am in Austin," said Ferrell last Friday.

Ferrell planned to visit friends, a husband and wife, who opened a bed and breakfast inn, Le Maraval, in the Perigord region of France south of Paris.

Because July is over, Ferrell has run out of time to visit France this summer. She is a teacher at Metro State University of the baccalaureate completion program for registered nurses and the school year begins soon.

Ferrell took the Metro State teaching job last January after spending eight years on the faculty at Augsburg College.

She has spent 34 years in nursing.

"I decided in college that I wanted to be a nurse and I love it," said the veteran of over three decades in community health and hospital nursing, who was a U.S. Navy nurse, during the Vietnam War.

Four years ago, Ferrell became a trained volunteer for the St. Paul Red Cross chapter. Three years ago, she was assigned to the Red River Valley area, when the April 1997 floods struck the northwest Minnesota area.

"It just hit me. I knew I wanted to do this," she said of her Red River Valley volunteer experiences. "It intrigued me and I signed up. Helping in the Red River Valley floods was a wonderful surprise to me and a great experience."

A member of the St. Paul chapter’s disaster action team, Ferrell has been thrust into nursing and family service duties at fire and other emergencies.

For two to three weeks at a time, she practices what Ferrell calls "community health nursing" at its most intense.

Her disaster involvement begins when victims of a natural disaster ask to see a nurse for health concerns.

In the case of flooding, her involvement may be to remind even the healthiest survivors to wear protective clothing when cleaning up their homes, to wash their hands frequently and to get a tetanus booster shot.

She may also join an Red Cross outreach team and go into homes to assist victims.

During her Austin visit, she was part of a team that included Maryann Wolesky, director of nursing at Austin Medical Center – Mayo Health Systems, and Rita Hiller, a registered nurse, who lives at LeRoy and who is co-chair of the Mower County chapter’s disaster services unit as well as Lavonne Johnson, another registered nurse who joined Ferrell on her outreach team frequently.

Ferrell called them "phenomenal" at what they did and a "pleasure and a privilege to work with."

"A lot of what we do is health teaching," Ferrell said. "It’s a matter of education and awareness. It may be gastrointestinitis and recognizing the symptoms or dehydration, but whatever it is we are there to help, but we also do a lot of teaching."

An asthma victim’s breathing may become even more difficult in the close quarters of a damp basement. Wells must be cleaned and disinfected to avoid contamination from spreading.

Again, Ferrell explained, both offering and rendering assistance and teaching victims go hand-in-hand.

Ferrell relishes the challenges she encounters at each emergency. "This is what I do for a living," she said. "I have to remember always that this could happen to me, so the satisfaction of making sure these people are safe and everyone’s most important needs are met and the victims can get safely back into their homes gives you a large amount of satisfaction."

Ferrell enthusiastically encourages others to considering volunteering for the Red Cross.

"There’s something for everyone," she said. "Everybody can find a niche and their impressions, like mine, will grow stronger and stronger about helping the Red Cross."

Ferrell also believes today’s nursing students can benefit from assisting the Red Cross and she would like to see the Red Cross community heath nursing experience become a component of college nursing programming.

But, helping others in times of need is what nurses do, because "A standard of the nursing profession is to do professional work and give back to the community."

And, that’s what Ferrell and other Red Cross nursing volunteers did for victims of the Austin flooding.

Flowers, drawings of thanks

Another example how people rally around their neighbors as well as strangers in times of disasters comes from Johnson Floral of Austin.

When a Red Cross representative went to the business to order flowers, the Johnson Floral management and staff recognized an opportunity to also help.

They sent bouquets of flowers and various centerpieces to the Red Cross headquarters, where they are displayed on the intake tables where victims seek help.

The flowers helped to brighten spirits at a time when flood victims spirits were at their lowest in Austin.

Also, a flood victim, unidentified, was so impressed with her treatment by the Red Cross volunteers, when she returned home, she picked fresh flowers from her garden and returned to give them to the agency.

Some of the walls in the lower level disaster recovery center at the Red Cross headquarters in Austin and decorated with children’s drawings.

The youngest members of flood victims’ families showed their appreciation to the Red Cross with a personalized drawing of the disaster.