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Mental Scars Still Healing 10 Years After Katrina
August 28, 2015
By: Kristine Alarcon
Edited by: Juliana Zhu, Esq.
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans a decade ago reaping havoc on communities, hospitals, schools, businesses, and homes. Though the city of New Orleans is recovering, Katrina still traumatizes some of the residents, especially the younger population.
Kendall Hooker was in fifth grade at the time the hurricane hit. Kendall and his grandfather quickly evacuated and he was separated from his siblings. It turns out that they stayed with other family members. It was difficult for a nine-year-old to fully understand what was happening at the time. He pestered his grandfather asking where his siblings were and when he could go back to school. Kendall loved school as it was a safe haven from his abusive home.
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Growing up, Kendall had an abusive single mother. He felt trapped and like a prisoner at home because his mother beat him and his siblings. Eventually, Child Protective Services took them and his mother was arrested. It was a terrifying experience as Kendall, who was five at the time, witnessed the Child Protective Services enter his window through the fire escape and take his brother in the middle of the night. After that, Kendall was separated from his brothers and sister. For five years, Kendall was placed in multiple foster homes until he moved in with his grandparents. Even though Kendall experienced an adverse childhood, he never showed any behavioral problems.
When Kendall and his grandfather evacuated to Texas, Kendall had his first violent episode. He threw rocks from outside onto the walls of his hotel room and windows. He also broke a TV and tore apart blankets. However, Kendall could not recall his violent actions and it was “like a black-out” (Kaplan-Levenson). He did not remember how he made it to the mental hospital that day.
Kendall had other episodes for the next ten years and was in-and-out of mental institutions and jail. He lost his safe haven, the classroom, and released many years of suppressed trauma. The outcome of Katrina caused Kendall another traumatic experience when he came back home to New Orleans. It no longer looked like home.
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Other children were shocked like Kendall and mental health professionals sought to help them cope. Fleur de Lis, directed by Beth Cooney, is an organization that provides help for the young victims of Hurricane Katrina. They specialize in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy and address the children’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Many of the children that Cooney and Fleur de Lis work with have four out of five ACEs, which include Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or hyper vigilance.
Fleur de Lis helps the children calm down and relax, letting them know that their behaviors are the result of the trauma. They help normalize the side effects, such as trouble sleeping or nightmares, for the victims. Cooney hopes that schools will become trauma-sensitive and can identify children with trauma.
Though there are high incarceration rates and gun violence in the community, the traumatic events of Hurricane Katrina have not completely taken over the lives of the victims. For Kendall, he graduated high school and is hoping to live a better life with a stable family and finances.
Kristine Alarcon is certified in Sterile Processing and Distribution in California and is pursing a Masters in Public Health at Drexel University. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.