Physician Assistant Studies student volunteers with Louisiana flooding survivors

Physician Assistant Studies student Alyse Moses-Lebron traveled to her home state of Louisiana during the month of August. Just days after returning home, she found herself volunteering at emergency shelters to help survivors of mass flooding.

Physician Assistant Studies student volunteers with Louisiana flooding survivors click to enlarge Alyse Moses-Lebron

The rain begins

When UNC Physician Assistant Studies first-year student Alyse Moses-Lebron left the UNC School of Medicine campus for summer break to return to her parents' home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she had no idea her medical training would be put to use caring for survivors of flooding that plagued the area in mid-August. 

After wrapping up her first year of PA school, Moses-Lebron returned to Baton Rouge on August 9. On August 11, the rain began. 

"It poured, and it poured, and it poured," Moses-Lebron said. "I've never seen rain like that."

Over the weekend, the rain intensified and flooding began. Miraculously, Moses-Lebron's family subdivision was left untouched by flooding. 

By 7 a.m. the following Monday, Moses-Lebron heard a shelter would open nearby. In a matter of moments, Moses-Lebron donned her UNC PA program T-shirt and headed to the shelter. 

When Moses-Lebron arrived, those organizing volunteers realized her medical background would be immediately useful. 

"That's when they grabbed me; there was nobody medical there," Moses-Lebron said. "I needed a plan, so I came up with a plan. Being in PA school gave me the ability to critically think through the situation," she said. "We didn't even have a first-aid kit."

Caring for others

Over the next several hours, Moses-Lebron coordinated medical care for those among the 250 people in the shelter who needed care. She grabbed a roll of tape and used it as an identifier to triage people who needed medical attention. 

Later, Moses-Lebron headed to another shelter, where she worked closely with a pharmacy technician volunteer. With little access to the outside world, Moses-Lebron used her smartphone to look at presentations from PA school she had saved as a reference on Google to triage survivors.

At the second location, Moses-Lebron and the pharmacy technician saw people with varying conditions and co-morbidities, including renal failure, seizures, and open wounds ripe for infection.

Moses-Lebron and the rest of the volunteer team cheered when a couple showed up to the second shelter with a truck and a boat. The couple made several trips between the shelter and the hospital to transfer those who needed medical attention quickly. 

Moving forward

Over the next few hours, Moses-Lebron saw communities form within the shelter and a spirit of helpfulness and generosity take over.

"You had people who had nothing," Moses-Lebron said. "It didn't matter what religion you were, what ethnicity you were; everybody was just helping each other. That was one of the most positive things I've ever seen."

That spirit of helpfulness also came from those outside of Louisiana, including from Moses-Lebron's cousin, who asked if she could send supplies using Amazon Prime, a subscription-based e-commerce service that offers expedited shipping rates. Within hours, a wish list of supplies, including shovels, deodorant, and toilet paper, was created. Since then, dozens of supplies have shipped to shelters thanks to people who fulfilled wish list items online.

Online shipping tools like Amazon Prime sparked an idea for Moses-Lebron as she saw its usefulness in emergency situations. Soon, Moses-Lebron hopes to start a nonprofit to encourage people to use similar services, with a particular emphasis on transparency in both giving and receiving supplies. 

"Everyone was asking me what they can do," Moses-Lebron said. "Once you can get mail in, that allows people to rebuild."

Classmates join in volunteering 

Dr. Stephen Hooper, associate dean and chair of the Department of Allied Health Sciences, which houses the PA program, noted that Moses-Lebron’s caring attitude and quick thinking made a major impact in the comfort of flood survivors.

“The ripple effect is profound,” Hooper said. “This is one of those awe-inspiring stories that showcases the fortitude, creativity, and critical thinking capabilities of our students in the PA program.” 

While Moses-Lebron is back in class at UNC-CH, she still receives daily text messages from those she communicated with during the floods. 

Back in North Carolina, Moses-Lebron's colleagues in the PA program have asked what they can do to assist flooding victims. Some of her classmates also have a desire to help her as she pursues launching the nonprofit; they plan to travel to Louisiana during fall break to volunteer.

"That drive, that way of being is in you," Moses-Lebron said. "We're in health care because we want to help people, but that extrapolates out to the rebuilding of Louisiana." 

"We have a lot of high-energy, hardworking, amazing, creative people in our class, and their willingness to take the initiative is incredible," Moses-Lebron said. "They see somebody in need, and they help. That's what they do," she said of her classmates. 

PA program faculty member and advisor to Moses-Lebron, Meg Beal, said her student’s story demonstrates values the program hopes to foster in its students of compassion, generosity, and humility. 

“Her commitment to remain involved in helping to rebuild her community, engage others in these efforts, and to expand this outreach on a greater scale through a nonprofit organization is commendable,” Beal said. “We are proud to have Alyse as a student in our founding class within the PA program.”

Dr. Paul Chelminski, director of the PA program, noted he is not surprised by Moses-Lebron’s willingness and tenacity to jump in and help.

“We recruited our first class of students with a special vigilance for those intangible humanistic characteristics that are not readily apparent in the statistics on an application,” Chelminski said. “When we interviewed Alyse, she impressed everyone with her caring attitude that transcended her obvious intelligence.”

Despite growing up in Chicago, Moses-Lebron said this experience strengthened ties with her adopted hometown.

"I just saw so much," she explained. "I hope they keep that spirit, because it's going to take a really long time to rebuild Louisiana."

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