From Staff Reports
For four days, Dr. Pam Peterson Mobley, an Erwin native, was among the hundreds of people missing after Hurricane Dorian struck the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas on Sept. 1.
Pam and her husband, Dr. Ed Mobley, are anesthesiologists and alumni of East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine. The couple, who live in Knoxville, purchased a home on Green Turtle Cay, one of the smaller Abaco islands, about four years ago. Pam, a 1994 Quillen graduate, retired from medicine in 2008, and Ed, class of 1991, still works as an anesthesiologist at the University of Tennessee.
Pam was visiting their island home with a friend when Dorian started brewing in the Atlantic Ocean.
“It started as a Category 1 storm, and no one was really worried,” Pam said. “They thought we’d lose power, and that would be it. When it upgraded to a Category 3, we started to think about leaving. But all of a sudden, it was a Category 5, and it was too late to leave.”
So Pam evacuated to a friend’s home on the island and prepared to ride out the storm on higher ground.
“We watched as the walls started bulging in and out – it felt like they were breathing,” Pam said. “The floor started shaking, and the roof started to lift. We pushed the furniture against the walls to strengthen them and then ran into the bathroom to huddle in a bathtub. Eventually four of us took shelter in a closet.
“It was pretty terrifying. I’m from the mountains and have never experienced a hurricane,” she said. “And I don’t plan on ever experiencing another one.”
As the storm approached the island, Pam was able to communicate with Ed and their son, Chris Mobley, through FaceTime. But once Dorian reached land, the storm snapped every power pole on the island and they were completely cut off from electricity and communication. Ed and Chris waited anxiously in Tennessee for any word of Pam’s fate.
On Sept. 4, they finally confirmed that Pam had survived. However, the gorgeous island that the couple had enjoyed visiting for the last two decades was in shambles, along with their home, which was a pile of debris after the storm.
“Miraculously, though, no one from our tiny island lost their life,” Pam said. “Our island was extremely lucky.”
The storm devastated the island and left it without any medical care. There was one clinic on the island, but the nurse who staffed it evacuated, along with her children.
So after a quick 36-hour trip back to West Palm Beach to reunite with her family, Pam decided to leave behind the comforts of electricity, internet, fresh food and running water in order to return to Green Turtle Cay to help her neighbors recover and rebuild their lives.
Volunteers cleaned up the clinic, and Pam immediately started mobilizing donations of life-saving supplies and medications to restock what the clinic and residents had lost. Using portable generators, she began providing medical care to neighbors and relief workers, who needed everything from tetanus shots for stepping on nails to emergency care for injuries from falling off roofs while doing repairs. She met relief workers from across the globe, including members of the Dutch Navy.
“I have witnessed an incredible amount of love and kindness here, and from my home in Tennessee,” Pam said. “I found out that there were people from my home church who had prayer chains going while I was missing. That blew me away.”
Their kindness has inspired Pam and her family to give back. Ed is still practicing medicine in Knoxville, but he plans to join Pam when he can to assist with medical care on the island; they are both applying for voluntary physician licensure in the Bahamas. In addition, their son Chris, who has a degree in mechanical engineering and is currently working toward a second degree in computer engineering, is planning to take a semester off of school to help with efforts to provide clean water to the island.
“There is so much work to be done,” Pam said. “Seeing constant debris and devastation grinds on you a bit.”
While running a medical clinic on a devastated island was not the way Pam envisioned her retirement, she has found a silver lining.
“At Quillen, there is a lot of emphasis on primary care,” said Pam. “Before I began medical school, I had a nursing degree from ETSU College of Nursing. Studying to become a doctor, I always wanted to be a family practitioner. But then I did a rotation in anesthesia and fell in love with it. Although I loved my career in anesthesia, I’ve always had some regrets about never getting to do primary care. I guess you could call this my second chance.”
Her second chance recently came with a moment of encouragement. She heard from a couple that she had treated and ordered evacuated from the island after they were rescued by the Coast Guard. They were hospitalized and recovering.
Pam predicts a similar fate – one of recovery – for the island she has grown to love.
“We’re going to rebuild our home there,” she said. “These people have become our people.”