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Church provides model for sheltering evacuees on dialysis

 


Church provides model for sheltering evacuees on dialysis

Sept. 23, 2005        

By Betty Backstrom*

OPELOUSAS, La. (UMNS) — The Rev. Dale Hensarling saw what happened to evacuating dialysis patients after Hurricane Lilly hit the state in 2002.

“These patients were a group of people who escaped death, only to die later because they couldn’t get dialysis in a timely manner,” said Hensarling, pastor of Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church.

Renal doctors have shared Hensarling’s concern regarding evacuees on dialysis. In the aftermath of the series of devastating hurricanes that have pummeled Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, renal doctors from throughout the country have produced a model for a shelter designed specifically for patients needing help with their kidneys.

Louisiana Memorial United Methodist Church, housing evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, is perhaps the first such shelter emerging from the model.

“Two days after the storm hit, we were up and running,” Hensarling said. “This was critical because we needed to be prepared to receive patients as soon as they arrived.”

Dr. Paul Miller, who operates a dialysis clinic in Opelousas, was instrumental in guiding the south Louisiana church through the process of opening and its ongoing operation. “Dr. Miller was invaluable, as were our contacts with the Office of Public Health,” Hensarling added.

A comforting aspect of this shelter is that the church can house not only the patients, but their family members as well. “This can be critical to the well-being of the patient,” the pastor said. “We have one 12-year-old and a number of elderly who not only need their family for emotional support but for physical support as well.”

Housing the shelter at the church allowed the staff and volunteers to provide a non-clinical atmosphere. “People arrived frightened and exhausted. We tried to make the transition for them as painless as possible. Everything we do and say is to let them know that we are glad they are here,” said church member Darlene Trosclair.

The population of patients rose to as high as 24 after Hurricane Katrina, with an additional 14 or so family members and caregivers. That number decreased as patients were placed in more permanent housing. The remaining patients and staff were hunkering down as Hurricane Rita approached Sept. 23.

Housing the dialysis shelter is only one component of the church’s ongoing support for the evacuees and their families. The 12-year-old patient has been enrolled in a local junior high school. Some adults have been placed in jobs in the Opelousas area, often in their own fields of work.

Church members are in the process of finding housing, temporary and permanent, for evacuees. Volunteers are lined up daily to transport the patients back and forth to an area dialysis clinic in Eunice. The church itself doesn’t house dialysis machines.

Hensarling has even performed a wedding for a couple living in the shelter with the young woman’s mother, who is on dialysis. “Both the bride and groom were born and raised in New Orleans. They had plans to marry soon in New Orleans, so they decided to have the ceremony here with us,” he said.

“I’ve always wanted a wedding in the church with my family around me,” said Charlene Lee, the bride. “All of you at the church are my family now.”

A local bridal shop donated a dress and veil, and Hensarling loaned groom Larry Morris his tuxedo.

“The local paper asked permission to cover the event, and I said it was fine, with the permission of the couple. My only stipulation was that the photographer would agree to shoot a few extra pictures for a wedding album,” the pastor said with a laugh.

Not all the stories have been quite as happy. One 20-year-old patient was separated from family, who wound up in Dallas. Arranging his travel to reunite them is tricky because dialysis patients often cannot tolerate long trips.

“We’re working on obtaining mercy flights right now for several of the patients who need to be flown to their destination,” Hensarling said. “Car travel is too risky to their health.”

*Backstrom is editor of Louisiana Now!, the newspaper of the United Methodist Church’s Louisiana Annual Conference.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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