Cajun Navy Relief volunteer secures life-saving medical supplies for Southeast Texans

Cajun Navy Relief volunteer secures life-saving medical supplies for Southeast Texans
Cajun Navy Relief volunteer secures life-saving medical supplies for Southeast Texans

Horror stories of tragic circumstances created by Hurricane Harvey’s horrendous flooding abound, but in the midst of tragedy, heroism shone through as volunteers from various organizations and communities endeavored to save lives and restore hope in Southeast Texas.

Volunteers such as those from the Cajun Navy Relief, who had swept into the area to rescue citizens trapped by perilous floodwaters, then went above and beyond by assisting in recovery efforts, such as obtaining vitally important tetanus vaccinations and other medical supplies that were provided to Dr. Qamar Arfeen and local Diagnostic Group clinics.

While working multiple different search and water rescue efforts as a volunteer dispatcher for Cajun Navy Relief and trying to source another medical need in the Beaumont area, one woman became aware of Dr, Arfeen’s critical medical supply needs in the Southeast Texas area, and she leapt into action. Like all Cajun Navy Relief volunteers, Michelle Uí Cheallaigh was using the Zello walkie talkie app on her smartphone to communicate with a large network of boaters, “boots-on-the-ground” and various volunteers at staging areas where resources were being gathered.  She was therefore able to quickly facilitate several conversations that resulted in a number of Houstonphysicians volunteering to donate their own individual tetanus vaccine inventory to get Southeast Texas the quantity they needed. Despite the immense generosity of all the physicians who offered to help, most only had one to six vaccines on hand in any individual office due to the high expense of each shot, and it was impractical in flood conditions to put together hundreds of urgently needed vaccines piecemeal.

Cheallaigh quickly reversed course and worked with fellow Cajun Navy Relief dispatch volunteer Gina Bergman to see if they could find a larger quantity from any one source, as well as secure a private donation for them somehow. After hours of calls, text messages, and walkie talkie communications with more people than either volunteer can recall over the course of 24 hours, 310 tetanus vaccinations were finally found and a generous donor offered to subsidize the urgent acquisition. Dr. Suneel Chilikuri, an Indian dermatologist of Refresh Dermatology in Houstonwas in the middle of managing flood damage to his own home when the donation request came in to his phone. He didn’t skip a beat though when he heard about the urgent need of his fellow physician. Dr. Chilikuri generously paid out of his own pocket for the tetanus vaccinations that were critically needed in Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, sending them to Dr. Arfeen, who is Pakistani.

Cheallaigh of Cajun Navy Relief coordinated the secure transport of the donated vaccinations to Southeast Texaswhere Dr. Arfeen’s local Diagnostic Group clinics were able to administer the shots to residents of Southeast Texasfree of charge. Dr. Garrett Peel, CEO of Beaumont’s Previty Clinic for Surgical Care and a Texasnative, coordinated the efforts between the Cajun Navy Relief and Diagnostic Group and was a key player in getting the desperately needed vaccinations to the Beaumontarea.

Prior to the vaccine assistance, Cheallaigh also was instrumental in a number of other Cajun Navy Relief missions involving urgent medical needs. In one particular instance, she was able to arrange for an independent pilot and helicopter in Houstonto deliver juvenile epilepsy medication from the San Antonioarea to a family with a young child in need in the Lumbertonarea. That mission required tricky logistics as well, in that the helicopter not only had to fly in restricted airspace while President Donald Trump was assessing the flood conditions, but the mission also had multiple prescribing pharmacists, physicians, family members and officials involved to properly and safely coordinate the effort. Instead of wasting critical time landing at a non-accessible airport and arranging pick-up, the quick-thinking helicopter pilot was actually able to deliver the medication directly to the child’s backyard in Lumberton, where it was lowered down a rope to the child’s mother. An epileptic medical emergency was avoided as a result of the effort and video of the event has since gone viral online, with over 75,000 views.

The Diagnostic Group clinics also received other medical supplies that Cheallaigh was able to find after the tetanus vaccine donation, and Dr. Arfeen personally made sure that all medical supplies were used to aid flood victims in need at the various Diagnostic Clinic locations where they were required.

Arfeen and Cheallaigh worked together on other missions in the area, as well. One of those missions involved helping people who were found abandoned in floodwaters in the Beaumontarea in a senior living community. Cheallaigh was particularly passionate about finding sick children and abandoned seniors throughout her volunteer efforts with Cajun Navy Relief and grateful to have Dr. Arfeen’s unwavering help in that arena in Beaumontand the surrounding areas, she said. Together, Cheallaigh, Arfeen and Cajun Navy Relief boots-on-the-ground provided various resources to a local senior apartment complex, including generators, food and water, and medical supplies needed to stabilize the residents for transport out of the flood. Dr. Arfeen also made free medical assistance available to Cajun Navy Relief volunteers whenever Cheallaigh sent them his way.

Dr. Chilikuri continued his philanthropic efforts as well by generously donating thousands of dollars to other Houston-area flood victims and helping his colleagues in any way that he could.

Cheallaigh said she was deeply moved by what she saw and experienced during her efforts with the Cajun Navy Relief.

"I heard and saw some of the best of humanity during the torrential flooding,” Cheallaigh described. “Dr. Arfeen and Dr. Chilikuri are wonderful examples of that.”

“You hear on the news how divided the country is, but it definitely wasn't in those difficult moments,” she continued. “It's hard to describe other than to say that I am incredibly privileged to be a part of the Cajun Navy Relief team that helped others when there was an urgent need. There are scores of people who deserve credit for banding together to save as many human lives as possible, against all odds, no matter the personal cost or impossible logistics involved. I wish I could name all of them here.

“No one was in it for recognition, though. I'm confident we accomplished great good but for the grace of God and the selfless bravery of so many captains, pilots, doctors, veterans and first responders who did the hardest work of all. I feel like a privileged bystander who simply got to witness all of their greatness. And what an incredible view that was!"

For more information about Dr. Arfeen and the Diagnostic Group, visit the website at

For more information about Dr. Chilikuri and Refresh Dermatology, visit the website at

For more information about Michelle Uí Cheallaigh and Cajun Navy Relief, a 501(c)3 registered non-profit, visit the website at