Injuries take toll on area DVMs following Joplin tornado


Joplin, Mo. - Dr. William Sorrick, co-owner of a three-doctor practice in Webb City, Mo., took a client call asking to help retrieve four animals from Joplin. It was 9:15 p.m. as he and his son Jordan made their way into the devastated city. Recounting the story brought Sorrick to tears.

JOPLIN, MO. — On the other side of town, Dr. William Sorrick, co-owner of a three-doctor practice in Webb City, Mo., took a client call asking to help retrieve four stranded animals from the decimated city.

It was 9:15 p.m. as he and his son Jordan made their way into Joplin, Mo.

A time to rebuild: Dr. Jim Christman of Joplin, Mo. lost a lot when an F5 tornado collided with his practice. Much of the interior of the hospital was completely destroyed, and he estimates it will take at least three months to rebuild.

Recounting the story brought Sorrick to tears.

"Already, just three hours later, there were people who lost everything. They had nothing. They didn't have a flashlight in their hand, and they were on practically every intersection of this town directing traffic. It was black. There were no street signs. There was nothing you could even recognize. People with chainsaws were trying to remove downed trees. It was unbelievable. The people of Joplin are amazing."

The response to one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history was clearly underway, and it was drawing emergency rescuers from all as far away as Kansas City and Tulsa, Oklahoma. While the initial response focused on rescuing injured residents, it wasn't long for animal injuries to surface.

"There wasn't a health-related entity in this town that wasn't overwhelmed," Sorrick adds.

In fact, the next morning, Monday, May 23, Dr. Julie Gaither of Madison Pet Clinic was called to help the Joplin Humane Society as injuries and lost pets started to come in. It wasn't until early afternoon that Monday when Madison Pet Clinic started to see more cases. "By 1 p.m. we were asking for her back because we were in trouble," Sorrick says. The hospital could board up to 60 injured animals, and in just two days it was full.

While the veterinarians treated lacerations, broken legs and broken jaws from the tornado, the most surprising were the eye injuries, presenting like periocular dermatitis. "They didn't teach that in veterinary school," Sorrick adds.

Early on, says Madison Pet Clinic co-owner Dr. Brian Frank, we realized that people may be injured, they wouldn't have IDs, checkbooks or any form of payment, probably for quite some time. In fact, the practice opened up, and administrators tried to collect as much information as possible.

At the height of the recovery, the Missouri Humane Society also dispatched a team to open up a shelter next to the Red Cross. The Joplin Humane Society retrofitted a warehouse with cages to house displaced animals.

"It was heartbreaking," recalls Dr. Julie Brinker, staff veterinarian with the Missouri Humane Society. "People kept coming in with injuries of all sorts. They were just wrecked when they came in there. You could see it in their faces that they didn't know which end was up."

Within 24 hours of the storm, Missouri Humane Society had 23 people in Joplin, and they stayed for two weeks working 12 to 18 hours a day.

"It's one of those things were you don't feel the fatigue until you're ready to pass out. There's stuff going on. At Joplin, I didn't notice until I got sent home. I couldn't stop thinking about the people in the shelter that lost everything and felt bad to be in a nice, warm, dry house," Brinker says.

Dr. Ben Leavens, whose Main Street Pet Care practice was damaged by the storm, still found time to care for the hundreds of search-and-rescue dogs entering the city during that time period.

"He and his staff just kept working," Brinker says. "All of them suffered major loss, and they still found room to smile. I don't know that I would be able to do that. It amazed me and impressed me."

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