coverage of the devastation caused by Hurricane
Katrina, especially in terms of the toll in human
suffering, was massive and commendable. Even reports
about the crisis among stranded dogs and cats was
extensive and hopefully helpful in efforts to save
as many as possible.
Yet with all this coverage, the story about the
enormous stress and distress suffered by one segment
of the population somehow went under the radar
screen: the story of people with severe
It is estimated that 1 million people with
disabilities were adversely affected by Hurricane
Katrina alone. At least 2 percent, or 20,000, were
people with the most significant disabilities.
A high percentage of this last number are those
with spinal cord injuries. A great need exists to
locate these people, and to provide them with
assistance in the recovering of their independence.
Vast goodwill prompted philanthropic giving
directed to the general relief and recovery needs of
people and animals affected by Katrina. However,
very little was directed toward meeting the
additional needs of people with disabilities.
This is about to change with a gift of a half
million dollars just given to the National Spinal
Cord Injury Association. The fund, created by
philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert Klein and his
wife Ita, has been named The Brian Joseph McCloskey
Katrina Survivors with Disabilities Fund.
The gift is the NSCIA's largest single gift
to-date, and will begin the process of helping
individuals with spinal cord injuries - many who
have lost everything - to recover to a stable
existence once again.
Another portion of the fund will be used to
identify the thousands more individuals with the
most significant disabilities who have gone as yet
undetected. These people need to be found and their
special needs identified.
The goals of the McCloskey Fund:
• Provide direct
assistance with down payments, deposits and, where
other resources are not available, cash to rebuild
• Provide cash to
replace durable medical equipment not covered by
private insurers, Medicaid or Medicare.
• Assist in
furnishing homes, replacing items that will not be
replaced through FEMA and other sources.
• Replace vehicles
with wheelchair lifts and/or hand-controls for those
who have lost them.
• Create advocacy
programs to implement disability-specific funding to
address the additional needs of hurricane survivors
with disabilities and to maximize public policy
initiatives to address the current disaster
mitigation efforts and future events.
The McCloskey Fund will go to work right away in
helping people like Selena, from Bayou La Batrie,
Ala., a quadriplegic and 10 years post-spinal cord
Salena's needs could not be met in a very
overcrowded special-needs shelter, where she had to
sleep in her wheelchair. She talked her way into a
general-needs shelter, but this shelter was closed
before they could find her housing.
Salena ended up in a bed-and-breakfast that did
not have an accessible bathroom. As a result, she
developed life-threatening medical problems and was
hospitalized for a week. She recently transferred to
a nursing home.
Without Mr. Klein's gift, she would likely stay
in the nursing home indefinitely, at huge
unnecessary cost to the system, because there is
nowhere else to go. With this gift, however, NSCIA
will assist her in obtaining accessible housing and
replacing equipment so that she can resume her life
and her career, and prevent further dangerous and
costly medical complications.
There are at least 12 "Salenas" of whom we are
currently aware from Louisiana, Mississippi and
Alabama. Each has a story of survival against
amazing odds and unique needs that require immediate
With the McCloskey Fund, help is on the way. It
is our hope and prayer that with the focus now
turned to the needs of people with disabilities who
withstood the hurricane, but who desperately need
the hand of compassionate support, more support will
Marcie Roth is CEO
of the National Spinal Cord Injury
Association, based in Bethesda, Md. Contact
the association through its Web site,