Helping the Helpers

The team at UF Health TraumaOne saved a hurricane relief mission bound for the Carolinas.

By: Tripp Miller

UF Health TraumaOne treats more than 4,000 patients in a single year. It’s an impressive number, but the scale is truly staggering when you consider the impact of helping just one person.

For the past six years, Timothy Arce has organized hurricane relief drives in the Florida Keys. He and fellow volunteers Wood Campbell, Troy Gilchrist and Lacey Wassenaar were bringing supplies to help those affected by Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, when suddenly it was Arce who needed help.

“I was knocked out,” he said. “I woke up and saw six feet trying to kick out the windshield. I came to, stood up, immediately fell down, got my wits about me and figured out what was going on.”

Arce’s truck, one of three loaded down with more than $20,000 worth of relief supplies on that September morning, had overturned on Interstate 95 about three miles south of UF Health Jacksonville. He had sustained significant injuries, but there was no time to worry about that right away.

Arce and the others immediately went to work salvaging what they could from the crashed truck. It had been filled with 12 pallets of water, some of which had shifted, causing the accident.

Normally, their group wouldn’t be hauling so much water. They know from experience that water is typically the first service to come back online after a storm. But flooding in low-lying agricultural areas of South Carolina meant the water supply could be contaminated for months.

“We ended up getting a third truck and loading that with just water. That was the truck I was in,” Arce said. “It was the most dangerous truck to drive.”

As the volunteers scrambled to save what they could, nobody mentioned Arce’s head wound. He hadn’t noticed due to the combination of shock and adrenaline. But once the wreckers arrived, Arce stumbled and vomited on the side of the highway.

“Shoot, maybe we should go to the hospital,” he said. “My intentions were to go ahead and jump in one of the other two trucks, refuel and get up there.”

When somebody finally showed him his head with their phone’s selfie camera, those plans changed. Arce checked into the Emergency Department at UF Health Jacksonville and was immediately transferred to TraumaOne with extensive road rash.

Although his injuries were not life-threatening, road rash and lacerations that have to be repeatedly cleaned and dressed can be extraordinarily painful. Still, Arce kept a positive attitude that had a profound impact on his caregivers.

“He was more worried about getting those supplies to the people who needed them than he was concerned about himself,” said Teresa Calvert, a trauma resuscitation nurse who recently celebrated her 25th year with UF Health Jacksonville.

Arce was discharged that same afternoon. He and his group spent the night in a hotel near Jacksonville International Airport and parted ways the following morning. Arce boarded a flight bound for the Keys, back home to recover, while the rest continued north with the remaining two trucks.

They delivered the supplies to two churches, one hurricane shelter and an animal shelter in critical need.

“I can’t say enough good things about the folks at your hospital,” Arce said. “They were unreal. As far as care goes, as far as keeping me calm goes, and laughing at my corny jokes, the people there were absolutely fantastic.”