Nursing alum on disaster team ready to treat hurricane victims

The education and encouragement Mark Weston ’93 received as a military veteran in the Dominican nursing program is an attribute he applies to this day in his role as a member of a federal disaster medical team that treated victims of Hurricane Irma in Florida and was prepared to go to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Weston was deployed north of Tampa a day before the Category 5 Hurricane Irma made landfall in September to be a supervising nurse at a shelter set up at a local high school. He rode out the storm and attended to about 700 patients during his 11-day assignment.

The help and reassurance he offered victims of the hurricane is a trait he has passed on since his days in the School of Health and Natural Sciences.

“I learned my patience from Dominican and I learned how to be a good nurse because I had great instructors,” Mark says. “They kept me motivated. They wanted me to be successful … Dominican did right by me. I needed a chance and Dominican gave me a chance.”

Mark was looking for a new career when he was led to Dominican while in Vocational Rehabilitation. He was a Vietnam War vet who was on long range reconnaissance patrol when he was badly wounded at the Battle of Hamburger Hill in 1969. His subsequent surgeries in multiple hospitals created an interest in nursing and a desire to help others.

While attending Dominican with GI bill benefits, Mark worked part-time in the Emergency Room at Sonoma Valley Hospital. That evolved into a full time position following Commencement.

“They handed me my diploma at Dominican and I was just like a new person,” Mark says.

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Mark went on to work at several Kaiser Hospitals as an RN and in the ER at Petaluma Valley Hospital before he was hired by the State of California to investigate complaints and evaluate nursing homes, group homes, and hospitals. After eight years, he retired from that job last year, but he remains active with National Disaster Medical Systems (NDMS) Disaster Medical Assistance Team California 6 (DMAT CA-6) based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He lives in Forestville and volunteers at the Military Antiques & Museum in downtown Petaluma.

Mark discovered NDMS following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He was reading a nursing journal and learned that the DMAT CA-6 was recruiting medical professionals. It is a federally coordinated system that augments the nation’s medical response capability. The overall purpose of the NDMS is to establish a single integrated national medical response capability for assisting state and local authorities in dealing with the medical impacts of major peacetime disasters and to provide support to the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs medical systems in caring for casualties evacuated back to the U.S. from overseas armed conventional conflicts.

Since Mark joined the NDMS, he and his DMAT CA-6 team twice has been deployed to New Orleans, where he treated victims at the Louisiana Superdome following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and also Hurricane Rita weeks later. His last major deployment, prior to Florida, was to Haiti a day following the 2010 earthquake when he and his crew assisted in the birth of three babies and treated more than 1,000 people.

In between, Mark has been assigned to provide medical care for victims of forest fires in the state and west region. He is on call three times a year, usually around the hurricane season, and can receive a phone message, email or text from Health and Human Services and be immediately ordered to be at San Francisco International Airport in four to six hours to catch a flight to help people in need.

For example, when Hurricane Irma was forming in the Atlantic, Mark received an alert and flew from SFO to Chicago to Atlanta where he staged for three days. He waited there for his assignment to perhaps either Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands or Key West. Most of his DMAT CA-6 team was deployed to Puerto Rico, but a disaster relief team from Wisconsin recruited Mark. It was flown to Tampa to treat hurricane victims when Hurricane Irma shifted west toward the Gulf coast of Florida.

“We’re very much like the National Guard,” Mark says. “We basically set up a MASH unit. We treat, stabilize, and either street the patients or move them onto a higher level of care.”

Mark also was packed and ready to fly to Puerto Rico in October to assist in Hurricane Maria recovery efforts. But he choose to stay home when the North Bay wildfires broke out on October 8.

Mark has been doing this for 16 years. He welcomes the overnight opportunity to treat injuries and illnesses ranging from dehydration to heart failure to gunshot wounds.  He has assisted on the birth of 13 children and has spent weeks away from his home trying to help patients get back to theirs.

“And I love it.”

September 29, 2017