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Lending a hand

Palmer alumni offer compassion and chiropractic care to those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
Dr. Joe Wilson

On a mission Joe Wilson, D.C., Terri Coats, D.C., and James Coats, D.C., often travel abroad on chiropractic missions to provide free adjustments. More recently, they’ve become involved in missions right in their own back yards—helping evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Dr. Wilson recalls a conversation he recently had with Dr. Terri Coats. “I was talking to her on the phone the other day, and I said, ‘We’re always looking for missions, and this time the mission came to us,’” he said.

Population growth It has been reported that a million people have fled the eastern part of Louisiana because of Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Wilson’s hometown of Opelousas, La., which normally has 23,000 people, absorbed 9,000 evacuees.

As a chiropractor, the 1963 Palmer Davenport graduate is especially aware of the chiropractors who’ve been displaced by Katrina and Rita.

“We have a hundred chiropractors, maybe more, who are completely out of business in the New Orleans area,” said Dr. Wilson, adding that 30 to 40 chiropractors temporarily lost their businesses in the Lake Charles area alone, which received the brunt of Hurricane Rita’s power.

Food, clothing and shelter Dr. Wilson’s clinic has been providing free chiropractic care to evacuees and relief workers. After hours, Dr. Wilson and his staff head to two relief shelters, where they feed evacuees and give them clothing and other items that they’ve donated themselves or collected from the community.

And as president of the local United Way, Dr. Wilson has helped collect contributions and supplied computers to relief agencies. On his own, Dr. Wilson has welcomed evacuees into his home while they searched for permanent housing.

When asked why he has often gone above and beyond the call as a United Way volunteer, Dr. Wilson’s response is immediate. “If you were here, you wouldn’t even have to ask that question,” he said. “You just do it.”

Dr. Wilson believes Palmer alumni interested in helping those affected by the hurricanes should donate money to local charities in Louisiana and Mississippi because it can be used to buy furniture and appliances.

Photo by Kevan Mathis, Harrison (Ark.) Daily Times
Dr. Terri Coats

Feeling the effects of Katrina and Rita in Arkansas Dr. Terri Coats, a 1999 Palmer Davenport graduate, also has been assisting evacuees. But her efforts are taking place hundreds of miles away, in her home town of Harrison, Ark. Like her husband, James Coats, D.C., Palmer Davenport ’98, she is a volunteer disaster team leader for the American Red Cross chapter in Harrison.

As a volunteer disaster team leader, Dr. Coats usually finds herself dealing with single-family fires. But that changed on Aug. 29, when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. “Then everybody got a crash course in natural disasters,” said Dr. Coats.

Unfortunately, Harrison’s Red Cross branch office had not yet officially opened. In fact, it didn’t even have a telephone.

On call In stepped Dr. Coats, who offered up her cell phone and instantly became the main contact for Red Cross operations in Harrison. All told, Dr. Coats’ telephone logged 3,000 minutes during the first three weeks following Hurricane Katrina.

“At one point, I was talking on three phones at the same time, trying to get peoples’ help,” said Dr. Coats. “It was just one of those wild and crazy things. But you had to do it. The people needed the help, and you just did it.”

Other duties Dr. Coats has assumed include assisting evacuees in registering with various state and federal aid agencies and dispersing funds to evacuees so that they can buy essential items, like gas.

Helping hands Dr. Coats also has given free chiropractic adjustments to evacuees and even fellow Red Cross workers. “All you have to do is take your hands with you, and you can help just about anybody,” she said proudly. Although she believes financial contributions will do a lot to speed up relief efforts, she’s not ruling out other types of assistance. “Do something, even if it’s just volunteering time for the Red Cross to answer phones,” said Dr. Coats. “We still need volunteers.”

Dr. Terri Coats, with husband Dr. James Coats, receives a mum from a family she’d assisted after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Terri and James Coats receive mum

Generosity and gratitude One day, Dr. Coats received a call from a woman who was part of a family of 30 that the doctor had assisted. The caller told Dr. Coats that her family wanted to see her one last time before they headed to their new home in Texas. When Dr. Coats caught up with them, they gave her a mum with a card signed by every member of the family and invited her to their going-away party.

“That makes it all worthwhile,” said Dr. Coats, “that somebody is doing well and they’re grateful for your efforts.”

Up close and personal Leif Lensgraf, D.C., didn’t have to watch his television on Aug. 30, to see the damage Hurricane Katrina was capable of. He just had to visit his practice.

“We had a huge tree take the corner of a building off,” said the 1993 Palmer Davenport graduate, who surveyed the damage at his Hammond, La., practice the day after the storm. The Category Four hurricane not only knocked out trees all over Hammond, it disrupted the community’s electricity and phone service.

On Sept. 1, Dr. Lensgraf and his 13 staff members, including four other D.C.s and one M.D., mobilized to repair and clean the practice. In the meantime, a generator was brought in to supply electricity and, with no phone service, the business got the word out through radio commercials that it would soon be caring for patients again.

Six days after the cleanup began, Dr. Lensgraf’s office re-opened. During his first week back in business, Dr. Lensgraf saw 75% of his patients. A week later, he saw 100% of his patients, along with 40 new ones.

Relief for relief workers With his practice up and running, Dr. Lensgraf headed to New Orleans as part of the organization Scientology Volunteer Ministers, to offer chiropractic care to relief workers, including police officers, sheriffs, and FBI and DEA agents. While an accompanying medical doctor gave tetanus shots, Dr. Lensgraf gave adjustments to more than 300 people.

“Many of the people working down there were working 24/7,” said Dr. Lensgraf. “They would come in looking drawn out. One guy sat down just long enough to say, ‘Hi,’ and literally just fell asleep. He had been working four days, non-stop.”

On-going efforts Three days later, Dr. Lensgraf was back in Hammond, focusing on other ways of assisting relief efforts. In radio spots, he announced his practice would be a drop-off location for the community to bring food, clothing, toys and medical supplies to be delivered to New Orleans. The commercials also mentioned that his office was hiring displaced chiropractors and medical doctors.

For alumni interested in helping out those affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Dr. Lensgraf suggests they contact local charities within the New Orleans area.

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