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Home > Topics > Medical / Clinical
December 27, 2013

Calif. volunteer returns from typhoon relief in Philippines

Nurse practitioner Sue Soule saw about 200 patients a day during the week she was in action

The Marin Independent Journal

VALLEJO, Calif. — Even in retirement, Sue Soule wants to continue helping those in need.

So when the longtime nurse practitioner from Point Reyes Station was asked to help with typhoon relief in the Philippines, she didn't hesitate.

"That had been a dream of mine, to travel to Third World countries and offer my help," said Soule, 62, who used to work for Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo. "I do like taking care of people who don't have much else going on."

After checking with her husband that he would be OK with her traveling to a disaster area where just days earlier Typhoon Haiyan had wreaked havoc on the Philippines, Soule paid her own way to the typhoon-stricken island nation. There, she endured days of waiting and oppressive heat to provide basic medical care to those who needed it.

The strongest typhoon in recorded history to hit land, Haiyan ripped through the Philippines on Nov. 8, killing more than 6,000 people. Another 1,800 are still missing. Total losses, including destruction of more than 1 million homes, are nearly $13 billion.

As part of a team of four, Soule went to the Philippines through Remote Area Medical, a nonprofit founded by former Mutual of Omaha's "Animal Kingdom" host Stan Brock. Soule had worked with the organization before, providing basic care to the under-served in the East Bay.

When she received the email requesting her service in the Philippines, the message said that medical volunteers would not know what to expect upon arriving.

What they encountered was mayhem. And a long wait.

Soule and her team arrived in Manila on a Friday, but didn't reach their final destination until the next Tuesday due to a variety of factors, mostly stemming from the typhoon's destruction of travel routes — including ferry services. In a country of 7,000 islands, the water routes are essential to getting around.

"We got stalled and were not deployed for two days because of the bureaucracy, which I guess is inherent in a disaster setting," she said.

When the team finally arrived in Madridejos, a city in the northern part of Bantayan Island, just west of Cebu's northern tip, they found a population of nearly 40,000 that was nearly 90 percent homeless. While just a handful of deaths were reported in Madridejos, the absence of enclosures on the sun-drenched, fly-infested island put residents in danger of exposure. The pervasive burning of fallen trees — the fastest way to clear the rubble — filled the air with smoke, adding the risk of respiratory problems.

Soule said she saw about 200 patients a day during the week she was in action.

"Every day, they'd put us in an ambulance and take us to a different barangay," or neighborhood, she said.

Despite the extensive damage around Madridejos, Soule said she treated few patients who were injured or fell sick due to the typhoon or its aftermath.

"With some of the children, we did see some hygiene things that were a result of the typhoon," she said.

But mostly, she was giving regular checkups to residents who usually receive medical care from midwives and the town's one doctor.

If asked to serve in a crisis situation again, Soule said she would probably do it, but under slightly different circumstances. She went to the Philippines as part of the first wave of responders, when the country was still figuring out how to get its roadways, water and power up and running. Because it was so exhausting and chaotic, she sees herself waiting until after the first wave of help the next time she goes to help in a disaster zone.

That's one of the many lessons and lasting impressions she carries from her trip.

"I'm still processing it," Soule said. "I've traveled a lot, but I've always gone back to the luxury hotel at night. To live among the poverty was eye-opening."

Copyright 2013 The Marin Independent Journal

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

All Rights Reserved

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