A Maui doctor's efforts to deliver medical care to those hit by deadly wildfires
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
The official death toll has reached 96 in Maui after last week's devastating wildfires. Many more were injured, and some had to flee their homes without their prescription drugs. Getting victims the care they need has been difficult. NPR's Jason DeRose reports on one doctor who's been trying to help however he can.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE RINGING)
JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: The clinic is called MODO, which stands for Mobile Doctor. Specialty - urgent care.
REZA DANESH: I'm Dr. Reza Danesh. People just call me Dr. Rez.
DEROSE: Two decades in emergency medicine, a dozen on Maui. A few years ago, Dr. Rez opened this storefront clinic and outfitted a van as a mobile office. Now he makes house calls and offers free medical care through his nonprofit, MODO For The People.
DANESH: So anybody that can't afford or don't have access to come to a clinic - we go out to help them. And that came in clutch during this disaster 'cause I literally thought I was just going there to check out the scene and write some prescriptions. And then I realized, basically, Lahaina was hit with, like, a nuclear bomb.
DEROSE: Among those accompanying Dr. Rez was nurse Mary Kate Larimer.
MARY KATE LARIMER: It looked like something out of, like, a zombie movie. You know, they're completely in shock. They're, you know, covered in soot, you know, head to toe completely black. When they talk, you know, their mouths are bright red.
DEROSE: Red because of burns from the intense heat. The wildfires even affected some of Dr. Reza's employees. Office admin Jody Lueck had to evacuate. On that first night, she and her two sons slept in their car.
JODY LUECK: We're kind of a community in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, right? And when your outside resources are lessened, you learn to be more dependent on people. You know, I will tell you, they say with the island that it wraps its arms around you.
DEROSE: Dr. Rez personifies those arms. And on this day, he's heading to an evacuation center. He has a goal.
DANESH: Getting the people that have chronic diseases. They're not acute, but now it's been days without medicine. So that chronic problem can become acute - so people with heart failure, somebody as simple as I need my bipolar meds.
DEROSE: He and a volunteer load up the van with some food and water to give away in addition to the free medical care.
DANESH: I designed this Ford Sprinter just by myself because ambulances are set to see, like, multiple people the way - so it doesn't feel, like, homey. This thing just feels like home. I have a little - like, little Persian rug even.
DEROSE: But at the shelter, Dr. Rez gets a very different reception than the one he was expecting.
VESTA SUNG: I want to find out, though, for you guys, what's going on here.
DEROSE: Volunteer manager Vesta Sung says the Red Cross has taken over and is clamping down.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The shelter is a Red Cross shelter. So right now we can't have you servicing our clients...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...Because you haven't been vetted through the Red Cross.
DEROSE: Dr. Rez works his contacts - other doctors here, the head of the state medical board - over the phone but no luck. So he decides to redirect. He'll try to get back to Lahaina. But then everyone's phone start vibrating all at once. It's an emergency alert.
DANESH: There's a traffic fatality, so there's a car accident. And usually when that happens, they have to secure the scene and investigate.
DEROSE: Which means the road to Lahaina is closed for the rest of the day.
DANESH: I'm feeling a little drained. And you want to help, and - but your hands are tied because you're trying to organize and do it the right way.
DEROSE: Frustrated, yes, but not deterred. He tries again the next day. And he'll try again tomorrow because Dr. Reza Danesh makes house calls to wherever his patients need him. Jason DeRose, NPR News, Maui. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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