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NBGH Nurse Finds Devastation, Determination in New Orleans

New Britain [April 18 2006] - Kim Zanavich recently spent a back-breaking week in New Orleans, shoveling mud and tearing moldy sheet rock from once-comfortable homes.

The New Britain General Hospital nurse and other volunteers loaded one wheelbarrow after another with former residents’ ruined belongings, depositing each home’s contents into sodden piles over 20 feet wide and 12 feet high.

The devastation Hurricane Katrina caused last August is “massive,” but Zanavich witnessed something even more amazing in New Orleans: spirit.

“I was really struck by the local people we met,” said Zanavich, RN, of Southington, a Care Coordinator in the hospital’s Case Management Department. “They’ve lost everything and yet they’re so resilient.”

Zanavich volunteered in New Orleans April 1-8 through Habitat for Humanity. She has helped renovate Hartford homes with the organization but had no previous disaster response experience.

“I needed to do something,” said Zanavich, who used vacation time and paid her own way to New Orleans. “It sounds simple, but I just wanted to help.”

Zanavich volunteered in St. Bernard Parish, a middle-class neighborhood not unlike her own in Southington. Because St. Bernard Parish is not in a flood plain, most residents evacuated without taking many personal belongings, thinking they’d return in a few days to minor damage.

Eight months later, most have not been able to return home. With six to 10 inches of mud left by flood waters and an insidious mold covering every surface, their homes are uninhabitable, Zanavich said.

Volunteers spent as much as two days gutting each home – a physically and emotionally draining experience for each of the volunteers.

“It was hard seeing all the personal belongings, especially in children’s rooms,” she said. “You’d find things like stuffed animals and little shoes.

“I shed tears with one of the residents because there was nothing else I could do – her story was like so many others and just too painful to hear.”

Still, residents were grateful for the volunteers’ help.

“These families are left with literally nothing, and yet they’re hugging us and thanking us,” Zanavich said.

Though Hurricane Katrina is rarely front-page news anymore, the situation in affected areas remains desperate, she said.

“I’ve never witnessed anything like this,” she said “I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about helping to do so.

“It was certainly a life-changing experience for me, and without question I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Contact: Nancy Martin, 860-224-5900 x4366

HCC Corporate Communications
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