Earlier this year, we introduced you to Sandy Colasacco. Sandy is the founder and executive director of the Island Health and Wellness Center. Sandy was one of our island heroes before Irma, and she’s even more of a hero in my eyes post-Irma. Sandy called me late last night. She asked me to share the following with all of you.
Thank you so much for all the support and well wishes that have been coming to us here on St. John! It has definitely been a whirlwind of emotions the past 12 days, but knowing how many people are thinking about us and offering us so much in terms of help has made everything a lot easier. Seven months to the day before Hurricane Irma, I opened the Island Health and Wellness Center, a nonprofit primary care office. So many of you purchased raffle tickets and made donations through News of St. John to support us, and I cannot thank you enough. I just wanted to share my story and experience during and since Irma, and let you all know that our island will pull through this.
I have lived on St. John since 2003 and have never experienced a major hurricane, let alone anything like Irma. My fiance and I were lucky in that our apartment building had absolutely no damage to it, and during the storm we did not know anything about the extent of the damage to the rest of the island. We live in a concrete building (concrete roof too) tucked in the gut and had hurricane shutters for every window and door. My fiance secured all six units in our building, and I felt safe the entire storm. At about 1:30 p.m., our ears popped but other than that, we didn’t even have a hurricane shutter rattle. We thought that the storm must have veered north at the last minute and that our island was spared. Sadly, we were very wrong.
As we left the apartment that evening, we saw a roof from one of the buildings from the Westin covering the road to the left and a huge tree blocking the road to the right. At this point, we realized that this was worse than we thought, so we went inside until morning.
As we and the rest of the island ventured out on Thursday, I was rendered speechless as the devastation we saw was unimaginable. As we walked into town, the destruction seemed to be endless. There were trees and power lines down everywhere, roofs ripped off homes, sides of buildings blown in and people walking the streets in shock looking for loved ones. The true spirit of St. John shown through however, even after such devastation. Through it all, it was clear that everyone’s health was the most important thing. People who had lost their homes and everything they owned were not complaining, just thankful for their lives and the lives of others.
I am sad to say that Island Health and Wellness sustained major damage during Hurricane Irma and the space is currently uninhabitable. Most of the roof of the buiilding ripped off, causing extreme damage to the upper level units, and a hole in the roof in the back of our section caused the ceiling to cave in in our exam room, nurse’s station and supply room. There is a good deal of water damage in those areas, as well as the bathroom and it is spreading quickly. Thankfully I salvaged a good amount of our supplies and some of our equipment. (Thank you Anne for putting everything in plastic boxes.) While the physical space is unusable for now, I am grateful for what I have been able to save for when we are able to rebuild!
Since Irma hit, I have been doing the best I can to help as many people as I can. I am unable to see patients in the traditional manner since we dont have a physical location. So I have been making house calls, as well as making myself available at certain times at public locations such as the grocery stores and Chelsea Drug Store. (By the way, thank you so much to Heidi and everyone at Chelsea for opening so quickly and making it possible for people to get their medications.) I have been treating patients for a variety of illnesses and injuries, writing and refilling prescriptions and offering any aid possible. I have also been working with the Westin to treat the medical needs of their employees and construction crew. We are in great need of Tetanus vaccines and T-dap and will only need more as the clean up continues.
I will admit that I have moments of sadness, frustration and pity as I think about what has happened to St. John. But most of the time, I am hopeful and determined as I know so many people want to see this island rebound. I am working hard to find a temprary location for the Island Health and Wellness Center to open as soon as possible, and will do everything I can to get us back up and running with an even stronger purpose. The amazing support and response we received before the storm keeps me going and motivates me even more to continue to help as many people as I can now and in the future!
With the support of all of you and our community, we will rebuild and will be back as soon as we can. I will try to keep everyone updated on our progress.
Thank you so much to all of the people who are asking about donating. Please visit our website at www.islandhealthcenter.org and go to our Donations page to make a donation. Donated supplies can be mailed once mail is back up and running or delivered to the security department at the Westin with my name on it.
It is truly a gift to be part of our community, and I am looking forward to what the future brings (as long as it is not another hurricane!). Thank you again to everyone for your assistance, strenghth and encouragement. If I can be of any help, please let me know. (Please contact Jenn and she will contact me.)