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Still Surviving Sandy

One Massapequa resident’s remembrances of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy caught the attention of a woman who knows a thing or two about survival.

Dr. Cynthia Paulis, this publication’s “Healthy Living” writer and frequent feature contributor to this newspaper, was selected to be in Grammy-award-winner Gloria Gaynor’s new book, We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration, and the Power of Song. Available at, the book includes 40 essays of survival and inspiration selected from a worldwide competition. Dr. Paulis, an emergency room physician, was chosen for her essay on Hurricane Sandy and its effect on her Long Island neighborhood.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Paulis had no heat or power for 12 days. With the tempurature dipping into the 40s in her home, Paulis sought refuge at a local Ace Hardware store. There, among other local residents and their stories of survival, Paulis began writing about her experience during and after the superstorm.

“The message I wanted to convey in the book was the incredible spirit of the people I met,” said Paulis. “Especially those who lost everything, yet still stayed strong and stepped up to help others.”

During this last holiday season, Paulis recalled how Christmas took on a new meaning for many residents in 2012. Rather than concerning themselves with materialistic obsessions, many festively appreciated the gift of life bestowed upon them and their loved ones.

“People really appreciated that family and friends were the most important treasures and not just things which could be replaced,” she said. “I admired the resilience of so many people who just kept going. Even the trees that laid on their side with there roots exposed came back this spring refusing to die. They too survived. New Yorkers are a tough breed but this storm really was a gut kicker and tested the strength and resolve of so many people.”

Paulis knows what it means to be resilient, as she has beared witness to many extremes of the human condition. A Navy veteran and former medical correspondent for CBS, Paulis is no stranger to disasters, helping tornado victims in Oklahoma and those hit by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.

Earlier this year, she gave a lecture to a medical conference in Las Vegas on Hurricane Sandy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is currently working on a book based on her experiences as a night-shift emergency-room physician in Texas border towns.

Paulis’ resiliancy was also present during her graduate school years in Washington, D.C., when Gloria Gaynor’s biggest hit “I Will Survive,” took on a special meaning to the young medical school student.

“In l980, I was trying to survive the grueling first year of med school,” she said. “People forget that the women’s lib movement was in full swing during that time period and I was the first female class president the medical school ever had and we were the largest female class they ever had. Now no one thinks twice about women doctors, but that was a big deal then and there was a lot of prejudice against women doctors.”

Years after her medical school trials, Paulis had the opportunity to meet Gaynor when she played a concert in Burns Park in Massapequa last July. Paulis spoke with Gaynor about the tragedy of Sandy and those affected by its wake The doctor was left in awe by Gaynor’s sensitivity to the subject, as well as her affable nature and love of her fans.

“She stayed afterward until well past midnight to sign autographs, pose for photos and greet people after the concert,” she said. “I was touched when I saw her go over to a mother and a son who is about 30 and wheelchair bound and severely handicapped both physically and mentally. Gloria came over to them, placed her hands around his face and kissed him on the forehead.”

Gaynor’s book of survival stories also features an essay by Westbury resident Annie Bleiberg, a 93-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Paulis met Bleiberg recently and walked away honored to be included in the same book as the Holocaust survivor.

“I hope the readers get out of this book that no matter how dark and desperate a situation may be there is always hope,” she said. “And I think Annie epitomizes that more than anyone.”