Nearly 30 Years After Hugo, Alumni Root for Those Affected by Irma

This story is part of the "Studies in Resilience" series, recognizing the strength, compassion, and resilience of the AUC community after Hurricane Irma had a devastating impact on St. Maarten.

AUC alumnus Brian AnseeuwWhen Brian Anseeuw, MD ’94 (pictured right) first heard about Hurricane Irma’s effect on AUC and the St. Maarten community, he was reminded of the early days of his own medical school journey.

The year was 1989, and he was less than a month into his first semester at AUC, which was located on the island of Montserrat at the time. On September 17, 1989, Montserrat experienced the full force of Hurricane Hugo, a category 5 hurricane that would go on to wreak havoc on the southeast United States as well as other parts of the Caribbean.

“I weathered it out with about nine or ten other students in a dorm room,” Dr. Anseeuw said. “When it was finally over, we went outside and the whole island was devastated. I’d never seen anything like it.”

Hugo left nearly all houses damaged or destroyed on Montserrat, leaving thousands of residents homeless.

“We really didn’t know what to expect when Hugo hit us,” said David Whatley, MD ’92 (pictured below), who was in his second year at AUC when Hugo struck. “Cars were flipping through the yards like tumbleweeds. I lived in the top floor of my building and the roof tore off. So I dove into the closet, and the wall caved in and kind of protected me.”

In the days that followed, the AUC community grouped together on campus to ensure everyone was safe and accounted for. Eventually they were flown to Miami, and then to their individual destinations home for several weeks.

AUC alumnus Dr. David WhatleyDuring that time, AUC temporarily relocated to Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas, where students were able to use the facilities and housing to continue their medical education. Dr. Whatley finished his medical sciences coursework at Wayland, only returning to Montserrat for graduation, while Dr. Anseeuw eventually returned to Montserrat with the rest of his class.

They both remember the anxiety in the weeks after the hurricane.

“It was very nerve-wracking. I was apprehensive,” Dr. Whatley said. “You hear rumors, you don’t know how something like this might affect your education. But it worked out just fine. I’ve been practicing for 20 years now. And the school is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was then. It’s great to see all the opportunities students have today.”

Today, Dr. Whatley is a pediatrician in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Dr. Anseeuw is a neurologist in Illinois, about two hours outside of Chicago.

“My career has been wonderful. That’s why I have the best regards for my school,” Dr. Whatley said. “AUC means a lot to me. I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Their advice to students: Keep your eyes on the prize.

“Keep in the motion of studying. Focus on school, continue what you’re doing, and you’ll be fine,” Dr. Anseeuw said. 

“Hang in there,” Dr. Whatley agreed. “Before you know it, you’ll be looking back as a graduate, talking to someone else about medical school, sharing your experience and giving them motivation.”