By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Carma Erickson-Hurt gave tetanus shots.
Two-hundred of them.
But it wasn’t just about the tetanus shots.
It was about the man she spoke with who had to carry his 5-year-old daughter out of the flood waters that mangled and lashed out at the Texas coast, as if with vindictiveness, during Hurricane Harvey.
“It (the floodwaters) got about chest high. He didn’t know how to swim,” said Erickson-Hurt, a Grand Canyon University online faculty member from North Bend, Ore., as her voice punctuated the gravity of his situation.
It wasn’t just about the tetanus shots.
It was about the woman who broke out crying.
“Her own daughter had died a week before the flood.”
She was dealing with her daughter’s death. Now she was facing one of the worst weather disasters in U.S. history. Harvey inundated about 70 percent of Texas’ Harris County with at least 1.5 feet of water – the Harris County Flood Control District estimated Harvey dumped 1 trillion gallons of water there in four days. And it left approximately 136,000 flooded structures in its wake in that county alone, according to weather.com.
Those numbers don’t hint at the human cost: the thousands of water rescues, the thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, the reports of more than 80 deaths.
Although she didn’t see much of the flooding itself, Erickson-Hurt was in the midst of the aftermath, on the ground, with the man who had waded out of the flood waters, carrying his daughter, with the woman whose daughter had died the week before, with the people who had been battered by the worst hurricane to hit the Texas coast in decades.
“I didn’t have a need, really, to go in there,” Erickson-Hurt said of the flooded areas, which were kept clear for emergency responders and other essential personnel.
The hospice and palliative care nurse is a longtime volunteer for Project HOPE, which stands for Health Opportunities for People Everywhere. She jumped into volunteer efforts in Houston, post Harvey, for 10 days with the organization and volunteer partner Heart to Heart along with nine others who were split among different clinics.
She and fellow volunteer nurses worked out of a portable, and when they weren’t there, stayed at a Nazarene church, slept on air mattresses and headed to the YMCA for showers.
“I was at Christ Clinic. It’s a free clinic, normally, for the uninsured. … They’re going to offer free medical care for anyone who needs it.”
And the need is great in the Houston area, including when it comes to health care.
“Many places are out of tetanus. … They really need a tetanus shot,” she said of those who made it through the hurricane.
Anyone who cuts themselves is at risk when it comes to bacteria flow in the floodwaters.
“There’s mold and all kinds of bacteria. Tetanus can cause pretty serious illness. … They (health organizations) are also worried about other kinds of infection.”
Erickson-Hurt was just a child when she knew her calling. She had wanted to be a nurse since she was admitted to the hospital as a young girl. The nurse who treated her made an indelible impression.
She went on to serve in the military and was stationed on the hospital ship USNS Mercy in San Diego when she first worked with Project HOPE. The organization – it once operated its own hospital ship in the 1950s but is now more land-based – worked with Erickson-Hurt’s team when the Navy headed to Indonesia after a tsunami.
She has been all over the world responding to disasters, as well as teaching. She helmed a disaster management training program in Japan. She also has been to the Philippines to train teams of nurses to better understand how to tend to dying patients after Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda struck, and she served in Haiti, too.
The retired Navy nurse – she logged in more than 1,400 volunteer hours to HOPE programs in 2013 alone – was honored by the United Nations earlier this year on International Nurses Day. She was among 14 nurses around the world recognized by Nurses with Global Impact during an awards ceremony at the U.N. headquarters in New York in May. She also was named a Project HOPE volunteer of the year in 2013.
She continues to have a heart for this work because she said she has the desire to help people.
“I feel like I can make a difference. … Someone might say, ‘You just gave tetanus shots.’ But we do a lot more than that,” she said.
In the end, she connects with people. Volunteers didn’t only give shots but were able to refer people who needed other services.
“It was really just hearing everyone’s story.”
She loves that her job teaching with GCU gives her the flexibility to respond to disasters and teach in other parts of the world.
“Only twice in all my deployments have I had to have someone else take one of my classes over because I didn’t have the Internet,” she said.
That passion, along with a caring for different cultures and caring for people, is something she hopes to pass on to her GCU students. She also wants them to know, no matter what kind of background a nurse might have, “there is a need for all kinds of nurses, all kinds of specialties.”
“In my introduction to my classes, I always let them know I do volunteer work,” she said. “… Even in disasters … I always walk away with more than I taught.”
Erickson-Hurt returned from Houston on Sept. 13 but already is preparing for her next trip, this one to Nepal for a week to teach, though she is still thinking about her recent time in Houston and seeing the good in people.
“My biggest takeaway was for the community itself and the community helping each other.”
Contact Lana Sweeten-Shults at (602) 639-7901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.