Spring 2018 — The devastation of two Category 5 Caribbean storms in September 2017 took a huge toll on the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Puerto Rico and surrounding areas. The USVI, where Synergy radiologist Thomas Lu, M.D., was raised from age 2, took back-to-back hits from Hurricane Irma on September 6 and Hurricane Maria on September 19.

Dr. Lu grew up on St. Thomas, one of three main islands of the U.S. territory, and his parents still make their home there. Houston was just starting to recover from the destruction of Hurricane Harvey when Hurricanes Irma and then Maria struck the USVI. Dr. Lu and his family watched, listened and worried from Houston, as reports of some of the most powerful hurricanes in modern history spread across the U.S.

Thankfully, his parents were safe, but like most other residents, schools and businesses in the USVI and surrounding islands, they were without power. Dr. Lu’s parents lost power with Irma’s September 6 landfall, and it was not restored until just before Thanksgiving.

Seeing the storm and its after effects – especially the widespread, long-term lack of power – made a huge impact on Dr. Lu’s son, Andrew, whose September 22 birthday was just days after Maria hit. Dr. Lu said his son’s thoughts were not about his birthday, but with the people of the USVI.

Having just experienced Hurricane Harvey’s assault on the Houston area, and knowing how limited the USVI’s resources were in the face of two Category 5 storms, Andrew felt like he needed to do something.

“He wanted to do something for the Montessori school on St. Thomas that he had a connection with,” recounted Dr. Lu. “Lack of electricity was a huge problem, so finding a way to provide lighting was one of the first things that came to mind.”

Andrew is a high school student at a Houston-area Montessori school and has close ties to the Virgin Islands Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) in St. Thomas. Each year, Montessori schools from around the globe meet in New York for the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN) program annual conference.

“Our connection with St. Thomas makes this an important meeting, and Andrew meets students and people from the Montessori school each year, and he has really developed a relationship with them.”

MMUN provides students age 9 to 15 the opportunity to learn about the operations of the United Nations and its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions. Andrew has been involved in the MMUN conference each year as a representative of his school, and he is now on the bureau that runs the conference.

To help out in the aftermath of the hurricanes, Dr. Lu and his son decided upon solar lights. They ordered high-quality, solar-powered LuminAID® Lanterns to sell in Houston. For every one of the lights sold, Dr. Lu and Andrew would donate a light to VIMSIA.

“It was a two-for-one deal; buy one light, and we donate a second light,” said Dr. Lu. The project effort resulted in nearly 200 solar lanterns being sent to the St. Thomas school, where the VIMSIA principal was able to distribute the lights to students and their families. Shortly after the donation, VIMSIA posted a heartfelt message of thanks on its Facebook page.

“Dr. Thomas Lu of Houston, Texas, has done something amazing! He has been raising money for the USVI relief effort through helpusvi.org. With the money he and his son Andrew raised, he donated a high tech solar Luminaid lantern to each VIMSIA student! Andrew’s own school has even been helping to make this fundraiser a huge success…Thank you Dr. Lu and Andrew for shining a light during a difficult time.”

“These kids came to school that day, and they were each able to take home one of these lights. It lifted their spirits and provided something practical for them and their families,” said Dr. Lu.

Dr. Lu described how Andrew at first thought the lantern idea might be too simple. “I reminded him that most people there had no electricity, they were relying only on batteries and, if available, generators.”

The school also posted pictures of the very happy and excited students showing off their new lanterns on Facebook. “A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s when we could see how valuable these lights were and how excited the students were,” said Dr. Lu. “I was also very proud of my son for thinking of others before himself.”

About Dr. Thomas Lu Raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Lu specializes in interventional and vascular radiology. Growing up, he always wanted to be a doctor, just like his dad. During Hurricane Harvey, he worked with other Synergy radiologists to ensure coverage at area hospitals. (And yes, he also sent his parents several of the solar-powered lanterns.

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