DeLois Coggin was ready to go. She always is.
A physician assistant from Aberdeen, DeLois recently returned from two weeks in Maui, where wildfires brought deadly devastation in August. To date, the death toll from the fire is at 97.
DeLois — a member of the North Carolina-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (NC-1 DMAT)— left for Hawaii on Aug. 16. She returned to Moore County on Aug. 31.
“NC-1 DMAT is part of the National Disaster Medical System,” DeLois, who’s worked more than 36 years as a physician assistant, said. “All the teams (around the country) rotate during the year. We happened to be the first out in August.”
NC-1 DMAT includes professionals from across North Carolina. The team sent to Maui was lighter than what usually heads to a disaster area.
“Typically, we have 35-40 people to set up a field hospital,” DeLois said. “The state of Hawaii did not make that request. We were there to provide medical care to some of the other teams.”
Based on what Hawaii wanted, seven members of NC-1 DMAT went to Maui. The assignment was to support those addressing the disaster. DeLois was a team leader for the North Carolina contingent, as was a doctor. Among the others sent were two paramedics and two nurses.
“Some of the other teams there were in full gear — and it was hot,” DeLois, a product of the physician assistant program at Wake Forest, said. “We provided them with medical backup.”
After finding out about the mission Monday night, Aug. 14, DeLois was on the way two days later. Despite the nature of these assignments, it’s hard to know what exactly awaits until you’re on the ground.
One thing, though, is a given.
“Anytime we go into a disaster situation, we are prepared for most medical issues, routine or emergencies,” DeLois said.
As may be expected, adjusting to a normal routine — after being up close and personal with a disaster — is challenging. Being back home doesn’t mean you immediately shake what you’ve witnessed.
“It’s always good to come home, but it does help for me to make a slow transition back into my routine,” DeLois, the loving owner of three dogs, said.
Not everyone has the inclination to help those dealing with a disaster and its aftermath. You have to possess a particular approach or philosophy to provide assistance when suffering is rampant.
“I think it’s my passion for helping people,” DeLois, who joined NC-1 DMAT in 2002 after 9/11, said. “It’s almost like a calling.”
Feature photo: DeLois Coggin in Maui, Hawaii, to assist those impacted by the recent wildfires.—contributed photo.
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel reporter Dave Lukow.