By Brenda Flanagan
Richard Catania’s got a dry, hacking cough. It started right after Sandy ripped through his family’s home in Lavallette, leaving behind a layer of mold, mildew and filth. They started cleaning.
“It was pretty gruesome. I’ll never forget the stench in the house. It was just disgusting. There was no way to avoid it,” Catania said. “It was probably just a few weeks and I was just hacking up a storm.”
We caught up with Catania as a pulmonologist tested his lungs at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills.
Deborah’s screening Sandy storm victims for free, looking for complaints like shortness of breath — or what doctors call the Sandy Cough — mostly affecting people who already have asthma or allergies. Doctors had seen something similar after Hurricane Katrina.
“Which had in terms of respiratory problems a lot of similar complaints. There were articles about a Katrina cough in 2005 and things like that,” explained Dr. Andrew Martin of Deborah Heart and Lung Center.
Tests showed 22-year-old Catania has lost some lung function. They gave him an inhaler.
“A broncho-dilator. That helps open up his airways. We repeated the test and we received a 20 percent increase in his lung capacity,” said John Hill, administrative director of pulmonary medicine.
The screening program is paid for by the Robin Hood Foundation. It gave Deborah a $625,000 grant. So far, they’ve screened about 500 people — and they say they’re seeing a trend.
“It seems as we get closer to the affected areas, we’re seeing a big increase of people that are having either breathing or health issues,” said Hill.
In Toms River, about 30 percent of people screened were advised to see a doctor. Deborah’s trying to schedule more screening events in hard-hit areas.
“That’s our biggest problem right now, is finding the locations to host these events. A lot of the fire houses and different facilities were damaged so they’re not available,” said Community Outreach Coordinator Tina St. John Bialt.
Deborah’s already conducted nine screenings in Ocean County and they’re adding more, including some in Monmouth County.
“This is great. People need to take advantage of this while they can because it’s something serious you don’t want to mess around with,” said.
Deborah ultimately hopes to screen at least 1,000 people.