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The way back home

Hurricane Igor charts path to medical school and rural health care

Student Life

By Megan Timmons

What does it take for you to get home in an emergency? A car? An ATV? A boat?

For Desmond Whalen it took “everything short of an airplane” to travel to his home in Trinity Bay after Hurricane Igor struck Eastern Newfoundland in September 2010. He would find out, though, that sometimes good can come from bad.

Mr. Whalen, a second-year undergraduate student at the time, was in St. John’s when Igor hit. His hometown of Caplin Cove was one of the communities that fell victim to the destruction and ruin caused by the ferocious storm.

“I was in St. John’s watching it all unfold on Facebook and I didn’t know it was going to be as severe as it was,” Mr. Whalen said. “It really took me by surprise to be quite honest.”

Some of that destruction can be seen in the following photo gallery.

1/ Property transformation

A Caplin Cove garden before and after Hurricane Igor.

Photo: Charlotte Warren

2/ Property damage

A Caplin Cove family room before and after Hurricane Igor.

Photo: Charlotte Warren

3/ No access

A washed-out road in Hodges Cove.

Photo: Tiffany Drover

4/ Food supply

Groceries being delivered by boat after a road in Hodges Cove was washed out by Hurricane Igor.

Photo: Tiffany Drover

5/ Flooded road

High water levels in Little Hearts Ease.

Photo: Tiffany Drover

6/ Flooded field

High water levels caused a field to flood in Hodges Cove during Hurricane Igor.

Photo: Tiffany Drover

7/ Backyard lake

A man wading through his flooded backyard in Caplin Cove.

Photo: Charlotte Warren

He knew he had to go home to check on friends and family after the hurricane struck the island.

“I remember I took everything short of an airplane to get to my house. I was on an ATV, I was in a car, I was in a boat and I was even in the back of an Atlantic Grocery truck just so that I could get home.”

Once he finally arrived, Mr. Whalen witnessed immense natural destruction and the resulting limited health care and resources for the people affected. It was the serious situations due to the washed out roads that resonated with him the most.

Mr. Whalen describes some of those situations in the following video.

The extreme experience helped Mr. Whalen recognize he didn’t just want to help people—he recognized that there is a specific and urgent health-care need in rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. He felt he could contribute in a vital manner, and that he had to do something about it. He decided he would do so by becoming a doctor in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

When asked what triggered his desire to concentrate on small, rural communities like his own, he says a situation like Igor can really bring a community together.

“You realize that small communities can band together in a tough time and really do a good thing. After seeing how my community came together, I decided I wanted to go into medical care.”

Mr. Whalen speaks more about what keeps his focus on health care, rural health-care in particular, in the following video.

Once finishing his undergraduate degree, Mr. Whalen applied to Memorial’s medical school, and began his program in August 2013. He hasn’t looked back since.

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