Spartans Will: Athletic training graduate saves lives in Houston

September 22, 2017

Luke Klawiter photoMichigan State University alumnus Luke Klawiter was living in chaos.

Hurricane Harvey—a Category 4 storm that was the first to make landfall in the United States since 2005*—was causing destruction in Houston, Texas. Klawiter was living there as he continued his internship working as an athletic trainer with the Houston Texans football team. He, and many other players and staff of the team, had remained in Houston, concerned about their families and their properties.

“The days before the hurricane made landfall were filled with a lot of rain and overcast weather, which was not that unusual,” recalled Klawiter, a 2015 graduate of the MSU undergraduate athletic training program. “It was still scary as the hurricane progressed into a Category 4. Once the eye hit, and flooding started, I became truly concerned. The realization hit me that this was a tremendous natural disaster.”

The area around Klawiter’s apartment was hit hard with flooding. His car was completely destroyed from the water—and his downstairs neighbors’ apartment had flooded and lost power, too. It was an easy decision for him to welcome the family into his apartment and give them shelter.

The storm was still going strong—but so was Klawiter’s generosity and helpful spirit.

Klawiter car damaged by Harvey

Klawiter’s car (black, center) was totaled by the flooding during and following Hurricane Harvey.

Heroic efforts

On Sunday, Aug. 27, Klawiter and his neighbors were safely indoors, watching the rain and flooding pour down the street. That’s when he saw a truck that attempted to get through the water.

The truck lost its traction and slid to a stop against a fence across the street from Klawiter’s apartment complex. Inside were an elderly couple who were calling out for help; the woman was blind, and the man was on oxygen.

“It was a split-second decision of whether or not they needed immediate help,” Klawiter said.

He grabbed his swimming trunks, knowing the preparation from his MSU athletic training degree would help him safely rescue the couple.

“Part of an athletic training degree is being first-aid certified, as well as having a knowledge of a crisis response. The first thing they teach you in first aid is to check the scene. I did that by seeing how fast the current was moving, and if there were any visibly down power lines to determine whether or not it was safe for me to help them. Once I realized swimming to them was feasible, I immediately swam over and started to assess their condition.”

Klawiter climbed a six-foot spiked fence while his neighbors threw an inflated air mattress into the water to assist. He swam in chest-high water to reach the couple, grabbing the woman first and floating her 30 yards over to an opening in the fence, where his neighbors were waiting with a dry apartment and fresh clothes. Klawiter next grabbed the man, who carried an oxygen tank for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and also brought him to safety. The entire process took about 40 minutes.

Recovering from disaster

Not too long after Harvey made landfall in Texas, Hurricane Irma struck the Carribbean and Florida, leaving behind even more destruction.

It’s been a chaotic time, Klawiter says—but the thoughtfulness and generosity shown by others have been (and continue to be) a great help to those affected. Donations, including clothing, non-perishables and monetary gifts help those who have lost much in the disasters; thoughts and prayers go a long way toward building up motivation and optimism.

“The devastation has been horrendous to see firsthand, and the recovery will be hard—no doubt about it,” Klawiter added. “But the amazing thing about humans is that we are resilient beyond all imagination, and our combined work and effort will go far. We will come back from this. And even though it seems to be darker times, it is in those darker times that the light shines the brightest.”

This story was originally covered by Sports Illustrated

* Read a recap on Harvey’s effects on Texas and other parts of the U.S. at the Weather Channel