Mid-morning on September 28, Israel Pedroza Valle started to feel an incessant itch on his legs. A North Carolina resident staying at the Smith Recreation Center American Red Cross shelter in Fayetteville, he made his way over to the shelter’s 24-hour nurse’s station to seek some relief.
Connie Garrison, a volunteer nurse with Red Cross Disaster Health Services, took one look at Pedroza and knew he was having an allergic reaction of some sort. He had welts on his ankles and legs and told Garrison he was allergic to bee stings and had suffered respiratory symptoms as a result of stings in the past. Garrison thought he looked slightly puffy around his eyes as well, and she promptly administered an antihistamine and hydrocortisone cream.
Pedroza returned to his cot to rest. After noticing his limbs remained swollen he returned to the nurse’s station. On his second round into the clinic to see her, Garrison could tell that his face and skin were much puffier than before. Knowing his condition was only going to get worse, she jumped into action.
“I called 9-1-1, and the paramedics came right away,” Garrison said. “The only reason I knew something was wrong was because I could tell his limbs and face looked much more swollen than earlier in the day.”
By the time he got into the ambulance, he went into anaphylaxis and his airways closed. He does not remember anything that happened during his ambulance ride, only that he felt fear. Paramedics had to administer three EPI injections to open his airways.
Pedroza, who later regained consciousness in the hospital, was told that doctors had located three dead bees in his pant leg. It was apparent that had Garrison not recognized Pedroza’s symptoms, seen the urgency of his needs, and reacted quickly, this situation may have turned out much worse.
“I’m grateful for the nurses here. I thank her for calling the ambulance, because if she wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here either,” Pedroza said.
Garrison, who hails from Erie, Pennsylvania, has been with the Red Cross about two years. She decided to join the Red Cross Disaster Health Services team after retiring from a life-long career in nursing. This is her first deployment on a Red Cross disaster relief operation, and the day she assisted Pedroza was her first day working in Red Cross clinic setting.
“Many years ago, there was a number of large tornados that hit around my area,” Garrison said. “I volunteered for the Red Cross a few days here and there when I was off of work and I was real impressed with what they did. I knew then and there that when I retired and had more time, I would volunteer for the Red Cross. I wanted to retire, but I didn’t want to stop taking care of people.”
Pedroza, who has a Bachelor’s degree in business management, has recovered from his reaction and is now back at the shelter. He has been working with Red Cross caseworkers on a long-term recovery plan, which includes pursuing a job in hospitality. He has also connected with his local doctor and will carry an EPI pen with him wherever he goes.
“I’m really thankful for the Red Cross nurses – especially Connie, because she saved my life,” he said.
DISASTER HEALTH SERVICES VITAL During a disaster relief response, an important part of the Red Cross team is the Disaster Health Services volunteer. After rigorous training, these licensed professionals are on site to meet the short-term health needs of people impacted by the disaster. Teams of these volunteers have responded to Hurricane Florence, providing more than 41,900 health services as of October 4.
WHAT DOES A DISASTER HEALTH SERVICES VOLUNTEER DO? Part of the services provided by Disaster Health Services volunteers includes assessing individuals for health needs, providing care and support to people who have disaster-related or disaster-aggravated unmet health needs. This assistance may include providing hands-on care, replacement of medication, durable medical equipment such as eyeglasses, walkers and wheelchairs, or consumable medical supplies, The team may also help with the activities of daily living. Included in all services is the commitment to support individuals with disabilities and functional and access needs.
Common individual health needs include acute onset of injuries and illnesses, stress-related symptoms, aggravation of chronic health conditions, and decreased availability of the community health delivery system that existed before the disaster.
JOIN THE TEAM The Red Cross relies on the more than 20,000 nurses and other health professionals who bring our mission to life each day. These volunteers and staff members bring relief to disaster victims, work in military hospitals, and collect lifesaving blood. They develop and teach courses ranging from CPR/first aid to disaster preparedness. And they serve in management, supervisory, and governing roles throughout our organization.
Are you a nurse, nursing student or other health professional? Whether you are new to the Red Cross, re-engaging after time away, or have been living our mission for many years, we welcome you and thank you for your service. Find out more here about how you can join us and help support our mission of alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.