Pediatrics faculty make a difference in their communities during storm

Through the wrath of Hurricane Harvey, many in our Baylor family stepped up to help those in need. In the Department of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, these Harvey Heroes went above and beyond the call of duty.

Rayne Rouce

Dr. Rayne Rouce

Dr. Rayne Rouce, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology and oncology at Baylor and Texas Children’s Cancer Center, was at home in her apartment when the storm hit. Having braved Katrina in New Orleans and Ike and Allison in Houston, she received an urgent plea from family friends in need of rescue from rapidly rising waters in their home. With the help of a few close friends, Rouce began coordinating rescue efforts via social media, joining Harvey rescue groups on Facebook and messaging organizations such as the Cajun Navy and off-road rescue groups, sending them the locations of people in need. What initially began with family, friends and coworkers, and their relatives, quickly spiraled into helping strangers.

“We essentially acted as a dispatch. Hundreds of people were messaging, calling and texting me, so I recruited a group of close coworkers from the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy (CAGT) to help with dispatch,” said Rouce, also an assistant professor in the CAGT and a member of the Faculty Senate. “Some people had been on hold with 911 for long periods of time or were continuously trying to reach rescue groups. Many of these people were in dire situations and we were able to coordinate with rescue teams directly and let these people know help was on the way. Our safety during the storm allowed us to become their voices.”

Working all hours of the day for six days straight, Rouce and her colleagues were able to coordinate the rescue of 92 families, including two Baylor families. In addition to coordinating rescue efforts, Rouce and colleagues have collected and distributed supplies for shelters, shared useful contact numbers for those in need, raised more than $8,000 in gift cards and set up an “adopt a family through recovery” program.

“I think it is so important to realize that some of these outcomes could have been much different, had it not been for these amazing people in our community. Our Baylor training equipped us with the skills to think quickly and find solutions. It so wonderfully overwhelming that each person we helped rescue turned around and became a part of our rescue efforts,” said Rouce.

Dr. Jenny Despotovic, associate professor of pediatrics – hematology at Baylor and Texas Children’s Cancer Center, weathered Hurricane Harvey at home in Pearland. As water levels began, and continued, to rise in neighboring cities and suburbs, she and her husband worked quickly to rescue and welcome displaced people into their home.

Dr. Jenny Despotovic

“It started with a call from a family in our church community who live in Dickinson. The water was rising quickly in their home and they needed help getting out. My husband has a truck, so he and a couple of friends trucked out to them with a kayak, wading through chest-deep water to ferry them to higher ground. That trip, they helped rescue two families, totaling four adults, five kids and six dogs,” said Despotovic. “It was never a question of where they would stay – they were all coming home with us.”

Another call directed Despotovic and her husband to a neighboring family and their newborn, and yet another to the mother of one of the first evacuees they helped.

The Despotovic family provided shelter and meals for these families with the help of their neighbors and church community, who all came together to donate food, air mattresses and supplies to stock the quickly multiplying household.

“We did a lot of laundry and washed a lot of dishes, but it’s what everyone in our community has always done; what we’ve always done,” said Despotovic. “These families had been through so much and it was hard to see them suffering, and yet they were always ready to help however they could, cooking meals and helping to clean up. It is such a team effort.”

To help these families recover from storm damage, Despotovic also started a GoFundMe page, which has raised $10,000, as well as a Target registry for school and children’s items.

-By Allison Mickey