In the eye of the storm

By Haley Reardon Nov 9, 2022
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Utah native and third-year osteopathic medical student doctor Winston Sorhaitz and his family relocated to Fort Myers, Florida, in the summer of 2022 for his clinical clerkship rotations. They quickly fell in love with the beachfront community and felt at home as they explored the amenities it had to offer. Little did they know they would find themselves in the eye of Hurricane Ian, a catastrophic Category 4 storm that killed more than 100 people and left a path of destruction in its wake. As the storm began to pick up speed, residents were encouraged to evacuate—particularly those, like Winston and his family, who lived in Zone A, the area most vulnerable to the effects of the hurricane.

“Since we live on the third floor of our apartment complex, had made the appropriate preparations and stocked up on supplies, my wife and I decided to ride it out. We didn’t really have anywhere else to go. But then the hurricane changed course and we learned it was headed straight for Fort Myers,” said Winston. “We decided it was best to go further inland to a middle school that had been designated as an emergency shelter. We spent the next 18 hours taking cover in a classroom with our three-year-old daughter.”

For eight hours, the vicious storm pounded Fort Myers, knocking out power almost immediately. When the storm receded the next morning, the Sorhaitzes returned home to survey the damage. Forced to take an alternate route to avoid downed power lines and debris, it took them much longer than expected to reach their apartment complex. When they finally arrived home, they saw what Winston describes as absolute devastation.

He and his wife realized that a sense of normalcy would not return for quite some time. “Without running water, power, or good cell phone service, I didn’t feel comfortable with my wife and daughter staying in Fort Myers,” said Winston. “I sent them back to Utah so they could be with family until conditions improved.”

Meanwhile, Winston began working alongside other volunteers: gutting homes, clearing downed trees, and putting tarps in place to protect homes with damaged roofs. Helping Hands, the aptly named crew of recovery volunteers, has received more than 10,000 requests for help in the aftermath of the hurricane. As his rotation schedule allows, Winston continues serving--mostly on weekends now.

KCU has a total of 14 students assigned to clerkship sites in the Fort Myers area. Winston notes that they are a tight-knit group, and they had good camaraderie with one another before the hurricane. Experiencing a natural disaster together has strengthened those relationships even more. “In addition to the wonderful support we received from KCU’s clinical education team, each of us made an effort to check on one another frequently during that scary time,” Winston added.

Beth Rodgers, KCU clinical clerkship coordinator, and her team kept a close watch on each student affected by the hurricane. Before the storm made landfall in Florida, they reached out to students to make sure they were fully apprised of the situation and following local guidance regarding safety measures and evacuations. As the storm moved through the Fort Myers area, they continued to stay in touch to ensure all students had access to food, water and shelter.

Now that he and his family are reunited in Fort Myers and clerkship schedules have resumed, Winston has refocused on his education. The experience, however, has left him forever changed. “In life you have significant moments that force you to redefine your priorities. For the last three years, I’ve been consumed with medical school, pursuing residency, and my future career as a physician. Now, looking back, those worries pale in comparison to the suffering I’ve witnessed. People around us have lost homes and loved ones,” said Winston. “This experience has put life into perspective for me. It solidified my desire to serve others in their darkest hours.”

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