PSEA members help at hurricane sites

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PSEA members help at hurricane sites

Cheryl Mattern and Mike Wilson have seen their share of emergencies, but their experiences with relief efforts in the aftermath of hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico rank among their toughest experiences.

Mattern, a certified school nurse in the Central York School District, York County, spent 22 days in Puerto Rico last September and October in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Wilson, a driver education and training teacher in the Bellefonte Area School District, Centre County, and a volunteer firefighter, spent three days helping firefighters in Florida following Hurricane Irma last August and September.

“Originally, I was going to visit family. Then the hurricane hit, and I decided to keep the plane ticket and go down and help,’’ said Wilson, who is a PSEA building representative at Bellefonte Area High School.

He ended up working with the Cape Coral and Fort Myers fire departments at what was the largest Federal Emergency Management Agency camp ever put together in Florida.

“We had stations set up to dispense ready-to-eat meals, water, ice, toiletries, and other necessities,’’ Wilson said. “Many homes were damaged and destroyed, and had raw sewage in their yards.’’

Mattern has worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for seven years as part of standby medical teams for such events as the State of the Union Address, contributing her nursing expertise.

Her deployment to Puerto Rico under the National Disaster Medical System was her first to a disaster site.

“It was heartbreaking,’’ said Mattern, a PSEA board member who has been on several medical missions to Guatemala through her church. “For a place that was supposed to be lush green, it was brown. All the leaves had been stripped from trees. Utility poles and signs were down all over the place. Roofs were ripped off buildings. At the airport, planes were blown over.’’

Mattern’s team worked in a hospital emergency room, which was hampered because of the inability of some of the regular staff to get to work. Once the staff was able to return, she worked in the field.

“Aside from the physical damage, which could be seen, I think the thing that hit me most was the emotional and mental anguish of the people I interacted with,’’ Mattern said. “They were devastated. They had no idea when things would return to any kind of normalcy.’’