Tribune Staff
Published: January 17, 2013

BRANDON – When Steve Martin heads to the Brandon Outreach Clinic on his day off to volunteer and see patients, the physician assistant knows after five or six hours he can return to the comfort of his air conditioned house.

When his Disaster Medical Assistance Team went to New York two weeks after Superstorm Sandy, Martin worked 12 hour days in cold, damp and fairly primitive conditions.

The makeshift hospital where he worked, located on a soccer field with bright lights blasting down, was a replacement for the local hospital, damaged and incapacitated during the hurricane. The temporary facility also took the place of doctors’ offices that were no longer in any condition to accept patients.

But as always, Martin said, when he came home and went back to his job as associate professor at South University in Tampa, he felt a sense of accomplishment.

The 58-year-old New Tampa resident, who has volunteered for nearly two years at the Brandon clinic for indigent patients, has been a member of the FL-5 disaster team based in Fort Lauderdale since he lived there in 2001.

Deborah Meegan, executive director of the Brandon Outreach Clinic, said having a member from a national disaster team on her staff as a volunteer gives everyone in the operation a sense of pride.

“Steve was in the trenches in New York. I know he felt really good that he was able to make that difference when everybody was dazed and confused,” Meegan said. “When I came to work and found he had been deployed, it made us feel a little part of it. A little part of us was there helping.”

The federal team made up of about 50 doctors, physician assistants, pharmacists, nurses and paramedics, gets little notice before the call comes from the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System. This time, Martin got a three-hour heads-up.

“We were actually deployed … just before Thanksgiving,” Martin said. “It was a very, very massive response because there was so much need. We were assigned to Long Beach, New York and they were very heavily damaged, with flooding being the major problem.”

Entire neighborhoods on Long Island had been washed out and cut off from everything. Not only was there no electricity, but no sanitary sewers or running water.

“They had no emergency room any more,” Martin said. “We were providing medical care until they were able to get back on their feet. We saw everything from heart attacks and trauma to colds and flu.”

The nice part about working on a soccer field was that it wasn’t muddy like most places the team is deployed, he said. “And it was softer than a parking lot.”

Martin managed to get out a couple times to survey the damage. “The saddest part was seeing people’s possessions dragged out into the yards and the street, from flat-screen televisions to bicycles, furniture and clothes,” Martin said. “Imagine seeing everything you own strung all over the neighborhood.

“It was all ruined, mile after mile, mountains of people’s lives.”

While there, Martin connected with a woman he knew from 35 years ago in Fort Lauderdale who lives a few blocks from the make-shift hospital. She rode out the storm in her attic with her cats and was living in someone’s basement weeks later.

“Many still had no place to live and probably didn’t through Christmas,” Martin said.

The hours were very long and the conditions not so great, but, they never really are when he is deployed to a disaster, Martin said. It was cold and uncomfortable, he said. “But it was certainly worth it,” knowing the team members are offering such necessary help and that they’ll be going home, to comfort, after two weeks.