Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Veterinary Emergency Team members reflect on deployment to West, TX

The Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) is no stranger to helping out in times of emergency. Through Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and after, the CVM has provided assistance to both injured and evacuated animals in the Brazos Valley. But Hurricane Ike demonstrated to emergency response personnel that sometimes more immediate, on-site veterinary help was needed, and the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) was formed at the request of the Texas Animal Health Commission.

This video from MyVNN encapsulates the need for quick response from trained organizations like the Veterinary Emergency Team, who provided footage for this piece:

VET prepares veterinary professionals and students to participate in emergency response efforts at local, state, and federal levels. Working together, the deployable response team consists of trained faculty and staff: veterinarians, veterinary technicians, senior veterinary medicine students and auxiliary staff. They run practice exercises with Texas Task Force 1, and also attend all of the Task Force canine training exercises. See photos from the TX-TF1 annual mobilization exercise in April 2013 on the Vet Med Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/118BQqG

They are also deployed along with the Task Force when necessary. So, sometimes a student's Community Connection rotation becomes more real than practice. The West, Texas, deployment in April was a defining moment for two fourth year students: Joseph Wagner and Brittany Marvel.
Joseph Wagner expected to take part in a simulated disaster scenario when he signed up for the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Community Connections rotation. Instead, he was called out on a real deployment when a fertilizer plant exploded in West,Texas.

“On the night of Wednesday, April 17th, I received a text message from a friend, indicating the ongoing apparent disaster in West, Texas. Instead of practicing first response techniques in a simulation, we were deployed to the real thing. For 2.5 days I, along with 3 other students, assisted the Veterinary Emergency Team in the response to the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. This was the first time I’ve been a part of such a massive disaster. Our primary role was to treat the search and rescue dogs as well as any pets collected from the disaster zone. This culminated in us receiving and processing approximately 80 pets which were then transported to the local animal shelter to be reunited with their owners.
This experience changed the way in which I see myself as a soon-to-be veterinarian. Although the devastation shocked me, I was left with a powerful and resonating notion of pride and satisfaction with what we did. The victims of this explosion lost everything. Some lost mothers and fathers; others lost sons and daughters. Many lost friends. More lost their homes. But at the end of the day, most still had their pets. And they had their pets because of what VET did.
The tireless work in documenting and treating each animal we came across facilitated their return to their owners. When families returned to what once were their homes, they knew their lives had changed forever. But we could provide them with the dog or cat they thought was surely lost. Amidst the darkness and chaos comes a small sliver of hope. And this hope may be all they have. From that point they can reassess, rebuild, and recover.
This rotation changed the way in which I perceive my duties within the veterinary profession. It has allowed me to take a step back from the algorithms of medicine and precision of surgery to ask myself, 'When the time comes, can I use my skills to help my neighbors? Will I?' 
Seeing firsthand the profound effect their work in West had on those victims, I cannot sit idly by when disaster strikes again. I would not trade my experiences on this rotation for anything. It has strengthened my commitment to my fellowman in ways I could not conceive.”
~Joseph Wagner
For Brittany Marvel, another veterinary student who assisted the Veterinary Emergency Team during the West deployment, advance planning and preparation for an emergency makes a world of difference.

“It’s difficult to think about your life being uprooted and forever changed in a split second. This truly 'sunk in' as I looked upon the destruction caused by the explosion in West. Having now seen devastating loss first hand, I understand why the Community Connections rotation and Veterinary Emergency Team are so vital. And why it’s important to have thought about and planned in case of an emergency. Ignorance will not always be bliss.
The Veterinary Emergency Team was well equipped and able to respond quickly in just a matter of hours. Teams so well equipped and trained do not suddenly appear, although to the public eye, it may seem that way. But it was only after I was led through the process of preparing a plan for a shelter, for a temporary veterinary clinic, for my own personal evacuation, and now especially having seen these plans be put into action in West, that I comprehend the depth of planning required. Haphazard planning results in flashlights without batteries; thoughtful planning results in a team well equipped and trained to handle whatever may come. Our team moved seamlessly through the triage process of each animal and was able to deliver each animal to safety. I call that success!
I also learned in West that it takes a community to run a first response mission. The American Red Cross deserved a standing ovation for providing warm meals to our team and the Task Force… it allowed the Veterinary Emergency Team and Task Force to aid in full capacity. Resources such as this are vital to keep the team up and running, but are often overlooked as not 'part of the mission.' Having other first responding entities like the American Red Cross and local schools (who donated their locker rooms for us to shower in), means that our team and the Task force were able to focus on our overarching missions. I learned that partnering with community leaders such as these to ensure that the team’s needs are met results in better service. I’m also thankful for those who give to entities such as this, and I hope they know the impact of their gift.
However, the bottom line for me was this: The Veterinary Emergency Team is about loving people. (The animals are definitely loved too!) But the team in West gave up their lives at home and all their comforts to help others they did not even know. Looking at the destruction and placing yourself in the shoes of those who lost so much, certainly makes you realize what recovery of a beloved pet means. The Veterinary Emergency Team works countless hours to recover animals to bring people hope; they are certainly lovers of people, and exemplify sacrifice of self for the betterment of others. While in veterinary school … we cannot forget that veterinary care is more than just treating the animal; it’s about love for people and community who care for those animals. This team’s sacrifice, without a doubt, summed up why I am so proud to become an Aggie Veterinarian.”
~Brittany Marvel

Joseph Wagner and Brittany Marvel are two of the four Aggie Veterinarian fourth year students who participated in the response team that deployed to West, Texas following the fertilizer plant explosion. The addition of the VET to the Task Force arsenal has only strengthened the response capabilities available to the state and the nation.