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Superstorm Sandy: Recovery Takes Time

Riley Smith gets his asthma checked at the mobile clinic.

Recovering from a storm like Hurricane Sandy can be a long-term proposition, especially for families with children. In disaster response, urgent care, stabilization and cleanup always come first. But once the immediate danger passes, the less visible effects begin to emerge as parents and children must cope with the lingering and often devastating aftershocks of financial stress, emotional trauma and exhaustion.

Children’s Health Fund health care teams have been seeing the impact of these “quiet crises” in coastal Brooklyn and New Jersey, where we are working with local relief organizations to help families trying to put their lives back together. Providing counseling services, as well as medical aid, Children’s Health Fund mobile units are a welcome sight for these communities.

Some families have nowhere else to turn. As rising water flooded into their house in Brick, New Jersey, the Smith family lost just about everything to the storm – except their remarkable spirit. Jim Smith, his wife, Denise, and their three kids were among the 21 people who crowded into the modest three-bedroom house of family friends seeking refuge. When the storm subsided, they had no home. So they got to work, pitching in to help neighbors clear the debris, ripping out soaked insulation, and sharing the shock of their new reality. Thick dust filled the air, and mold was quick to grow in the empty, cold shells of deserted homes lining the streets of their proud community.

For the Smiths’ youngest son, Riley, these environmental conditions constantly threatened to trigger his severe and chronic asthma. Just three weeks after the storm, Riley was hospitalized with an acute asthma attack. Things were touch and go for days, but at least the Smiths had health care. That would change in the weeks that followed when Jim was let go from his job.

Now without health insurance, the Smith family has turned to Children’s Health Fund. Every Saturday, our New Jersey mobile medical clinic has pulled up to the Visitation Church Relief Center providing health care to anyone who needs it in this community that has suffered such massive dislocation. The doctors on board treat Riley, his brother, Sean, and sister, Kirsten, who all have asthma in varying degrees, and provide access to low-cost medication that can save lives. In the weeks and months to come, the Smith family faces difficult decisions and enormous costs to rebuild in the community that has been their home for a lifetime. But as they struggle to get back on their feet, at least they know Riley’s asthma will be under control – and they can all breathe easier for that.