After Maui's deadly fires, one doctor hits the road to help those in need
KIHEI, Hawaii — Doctor Reza Danesh is known around Maui as just Dr. Rez.
He spent two decades in emergency medicine — a dozen on Maui. A few years ago, Dr. Rez opened a storefront clinic and outfitted a van as a mobile office.
His clinic is called MODO which stands for Mobile Doctor. The specialty - urgent care. He makes house calls and offers free medical care through his nonprofit MODO for the People.
Since the fires his work has been all the more important.
"So anybody that can't afford to come to a clinic or have that access to a clinic and we go out to help them and that came in clutch during this disaster," Danesh said, "Because I literally thought I was just going there to check out the scene and write some prescriptions, treat some burns or wounds or respiratory issues. And then I realized Lahaina was basically hit with like a nuclear bomb."
Danesh has seen plenty during his years as in emergency medicine. He and his crew were not prepared by the victims they saw in the immediate aftermath of last week's fires.
"It looked like something out of like a zombie movie. You know, they're completely in shock," said nurse Mary Kate Larimer who was accompanying Danesh. "They're covered in soot — head to toe — completely black when they talk, their mouths are bright red."
Red because of burns from the intense heat that reached above 1,000 degrees. The wildfires even affected some of Dr. Rez's employees. Office admin Jody Lueck had to evacuate. On that first night, she and her two sons slept in their car.
"We're a community in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, right, to make it literal. And so I think when you're when your outside resources are lessened. You learn to be more dependent on people. They say with the island that it wraps its arms around you," said Lueck.
Dr. Rez personifies those arms. And on a recent outing, he was heading to an evacuation center — with one goal:
"Getting the people that have chronic diseases. It's been ... days without medicine, so that chronic problem can become acute. People with heart failure, somebody as simple as any of my bipolar meds, you know," said Danesh.
He and a volunteer load up the van with food and water to give away in addition to the free medical care.
"I designed this little Ford Sprinter myself. Ambulances are set to see multiple people so it doesn't seem homey. This thing just feels like home. I have a Persian rug even."
But at the shelter Dr. Rez gets a very different reception than the one he was expecting.
"I wanna find out, who are you guys? What are you doing?," asked volunteer manager Vesta Sung. She's helping at this shelter and says the Red Cross has taken over and is clamping down.
"We can't have you servicing our clients because you haven't been vetted through the Red Cross," Sung told Danesh and his team.
So, Dr. Rez works his contacts — other doctors inside the shelter, the head of the state medical board over the phone. But no luck and he decides to re-direct. He'll try to get back to Lahaina. But then, everyone's phones start vibrating all at once. It's an emergency alert.
"There's a traffic fatality. So there's a car accident. And usually when that happens, they have to secure the scene and investigate," said Danesh.
Which means the road to Lahaina is closed for the rest of the day.
"Yeah. I'm a little drained. And, you know, you want to help and your hands are tied because you're trying to organize and do it the right way."
Frustrated, yes. But not deterred. He tries again the next day. And he'll try again tomorrow. Because Dr. Reza Danesh makes house calls to wherever his patients need him.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.