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Lending a Helping Hand in Houston

Alice Sloop
Alice Sloop

Alice Sloop had to skip church to catch an early plane the day she left North Carolina for Houston, on Sunday, Aug. 20.

She carried the prayers of many with her, and she knew next 10 days would be hard. Sloop was using vacation time from her job in the college library to go care for her friend Nancy Norton, whose liver cancer had metastasized to her bones and blood.

As soon as her plane landed, Sloop began to help Nancy and her husband, Mark, plan home care and hospital visits for the week's scheduled bone-marrow biopsy, chemotherapy and infusions of whole blood and platelets.

In the middle of all that, Mark Norton still needed to do his job as an IT communications manager for the city of Houston. Some days they left home at 5:30 a.m., so they could be together to start another long day at Houston Methodist Hospital. Then, he'd go to work and Sloop would take over as her lifelong friend Nancy's driver, advocate, gopher and cheerleader.

As Hurricane Harvey approached, Mark Norton's work days stretched to 18 hours. It was a good thing that Sloop was there to shoulder the household load.

Then the storm hit, the rains came and everything changed.

The three friends watched out the living room window as water rose on Mulberry Park Road in the bayou town of Kingwood, north of Houston. It rose. And it rose. When it got to the end of the driveway, they called neighbors they knew had a fishing boat and asked for help evacuating.

A flooded street in Houston
Waters got deep fast before they fled to higher ground and safety.

"Nancy and I left in the first boat with the cat," Sloop said. "Mark came in another boat with the dogs the next morning."

They moved in with friends on higher ground as the Nortons' house flooded to a depth of eight inches.

Due to fly home on Wednesday, Aug. 30, Sloop finally made it home the following Sunday night after a grueling week of soaked rugs and furniture hauled to the curb, bleach fumes and black mold spores, and piles and piles of bloated drywall.

It was also a week in which she witnessed the best in people.

"I saw an amazing side of humanity that I will never forget," Sloop said. "It didn't matter what color you were, what church you went to, what age you were or who you were. Instead of gangs of unruly youth, I saw football teams with their girlfriends, and they would come in and say, ‘What can we do to help?'"

Now, Sloop is back home in North Carolina and Nancy Norton is back in the hospital.

"She needs to be there," Sloop said. "She has no home to go to."

Mark Norton is still staying with friends. Marshall the cat, a street rescue himself from Hurricane Ike, and the dogs Lucy and Linus, are fine, too. Sloop is back home with family, friends and her church family at Thyatira Presbyterian Church, in the tiny community of Millbridge, North Carolina.

And as Hurricane Irma bears down on another part of the United States, she continues to look to her time in Texas for inspiration.

"I needed a reminder that people are basically good at heart, and they can help each other and love each other," Sloop said. "We've seen a lot in the news recently about racial violence, and I saw people from every walk of life helping each other and working together."

John Syme
josyme@davidson.edu
704-894-2535