Every year the holidays inspire a sense of giving and community. For many, the holidays are a time to focus on the needs of others – especially those who are less fortunate. This season is no different and yet, it’s hard not to think of those who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. We spoke to one nurse who, despite one of the darkest nights of her life, has maintained a positive attitude, partly because of the support she and her family received in their greatest time of need.
Like many people located in the Long Island and New Jersey areas, Vicki Dunseath, RN, Assistant Director of Quality Management at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, owned and operated by the North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System, found her house completely flooded and destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
“My family and I live near the beach, and we prepared the best we could. We stayed alert to the hourly updates coming from the North Shore-LIJ Health System, but finally decided to evacuate once the conditions worsened,” said Dunseath.
As longtime residents of the coastal area, Dunseath and her family are no strangers to hurricanes or storms, but nothing could have prepared them for the intensity of Sandy. Dunseath added, “We were so prepared when Hurricane Irene came through a year ago and luckily that storm ended up doing little damage; however, this storm really lived up to its expectations.”
On October 29, as the Dunseaths departed their home for their planned evacuation destination, the storm continued to strengthen, and for safety reasons they had to seek new shelter. Fortunately, Dunseath’s colleague, Janice Collica, RN, Assistant Nurse Manager in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, had suggested the day before that Dunseath and her family evacuate to her home if things went awry. “It just so happens that our plans fell through. I called Janice while we were on the road, and she opened her home to my family,” said Dunseath.
The two families made it through the night together – without any electricity or heat. The next day, the Dunseaths made it back to their home to assess the damage. “I couldn’t open my front door because of the five feet of water that had invaded our home. Pieces of furniture had floated from room to room and because of the salt water, things were rusting right in front of my eyes. We were in shock.”
The Collica family extended an offer to the Dunseaths to stay with them for an additional three weeks after the storm. The Collica family didn’t stop there. Janice’s daughter, Kaitlin Collica, RN at Katz Women’s Hospital at LIJ Medical Center, took it upon herself to completely restore the Dunseaths’ sea-soaked wedding album back to its original condition.
Other nurse colleagues from across the North Shore-LIJ Health System reached out to help Dunseath and her family rebuild. “So many people have supported our family – my colleagues, friends, the hospital system – everyone. Those in my unit took over my shifts when I was out, my friends helped me clean and people at the hospital gave up their own paid time off to help others. It was such a generous and supportive atmosphere post-storm,” said Dunseath.
Dunseath has since returned to work and is now renting a house with her family – they won’t be back in their home for another five to six months. “My outlook on everything has changed. I’ve changed as a person – I feel stronger and more appreciative because of the experience I’ve gone through. My hope is that one day I can pay forward all of the support I’ve received.”
Pictured from left to right: Janice Collica, Thomas Dunseath, Tony Collica, Vicki Dunseath and Sydney Dunseath