Makeba, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

This year, Oprah surprises a studio audience of Hurricane Katrina volunteer workers with a few of her favorite things!

"Nobody deserves it more than these true American heroes!" Oprah says.

All the volunteers have heartwarming stories to share. Makeba, a pharmacist at a hospital in New Orleans, reported to work as the ferocious storm headed her way. The hospital administrators told Makeba she could go home, but she knew patients needed medication, even with a Category 5 hurricane rolling in.

While the storm raged outside, Makeba worked around the clock. After three days with no sleep, Makeba reached her breaking point. She began thinking about her home and the beloved pets she left behind. She called her mother and told her she was leaving the hospital.

"I was crying my heart out," Makeba says. " She said, 'You have patients that are depending on you. When you graduated from school, you took an oath to serve, and if you walk out, you're walking out on everything that you stand for.'"

Makeba's mother's words gave her the strength to stay on duty for 10 straight days, filling prescriptions and delivering lifesaving medications to people in need.
Maryanne, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

After Hurricane Katrina hit, Maryanne made a call to the Medical Reserve Corps and volunteered her services. But, Maryanne's job wouldn't give her time off to help Gulf Coast she quit. "I made a decision that I'm going to go no matter what happens," Maryanne says.

Maryanne joined up with the Louisiana Medical Reserve Corps once she arrived in the disaster area. She was assigned to a shelter that housed 600 people who were in desperate need of prescriptions, medical attention and psychological counseling.

"People were so appreciative of everything when they had nothing at all," Maryanne says. "That is something that I'll take with me forever."
Ron, a Hurricane Katrina rescue worker

Every summer, Ron, a stay-at-home-dad from Illinois, guides tours along the Mississippi River in his big yellow airboat. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Ron heard that rescue teams in New Orleans needed airboats to navigate the flooded streets. Captain Ron knew what he had to do.

Ron took the money his family was saving for a new roof, packed his bags and drove 983 miles to New Orleans with his airboat.

"I got right down to the water the very first day," he says. "The water was so high, we were pulling ourselves along the power lines in the neighborhoods just to get the boat going."

Thanks to Captain Ron's airboat and his selfless sacrifice, more than 55 people and animals were rescued from the floods.
Angela, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

Angela, a recovery room nurse, signed up as a Red Cross volunteer shortly after Hurricane Katrina came to shore. She was sent to Port Allen, Louisiana, where she worked in a shelter for 400 evacuees. Angela mended wounds, gave out medication and treated people for rashes they had gotten from contaminated floodwaters.

Angela's daughter Andrea says she felt humbled by the people who lost everything in the storm.

"I'm so proud of my mother for going down to help with the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort," Andrea wrote to The Oprah Winfrey Show. "She sets such a great example for how you should always help people in need."

"You're right, Andrea...your mother is a hero," Oprah says. "Hurray for all the nurses!"
Claudia, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

Like Oprah, Claudia loves animals, and it broke her heart to watch news reports and see abandoned pets roaming the streets.

Claudia knew she had to do something, so she said goodbye to her two children, two dogs, cat and fish and traveled to Louisiana with the Humane Society. Once in New Orleans, Claudia says she saw starving animals on the streets. "There was nothing to eat for them," she says. "Every animal was without food and clean water."

The Humane Society volunteers set up food stations for animals that were left behind and created an animal shelter at the Dixon Correctional Institution. Claudia worked alongside prisoners to comfort and care for more than 150 animals. "I've learned so much being in this prison," Claudia says. "[I] realized the need for compassion, love and a second chance."
Julie, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

Julie traveled from New Mexico to Baton Rouge with a horse trailer full of supplies to help animals left stranded by the storm. Upon arriving, she got to work building pens for stray dogs. Then, someone suggested she help out in another remarkable way.

Despite the devastation, Julie rose to the challenge by bringing joy back into the lives of children housed in Red Cross shelters. She set up tutoring programs, put on a talent show, set up daycare services and planned movie nights for Katrina's youngest victims.

"Going down there changed every aspect of my life," Julie says. "I realized I don't need much. I saw people there that woke up every morning and smiled and laughed and had nothing. They had lost members of their family, and they still woke up and were kind to people, and it just made me re-evaluate what a bad day is in my life."
Ryan, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

Ryan, a lifelong Chicago White Sox fan, sacrificed two tickets to the World Series to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.

In the aftermath of the storm, Ryan started a relief drive to gather supplies for families who lost everything. Soon, his garage was full of clothing and other goods to take to the Gulf Coast...but he didn't have the money to rent a truck and deliver the items.

"When I weighed the option of having a great time at [the World Series] while there were hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf that were suffering, it seemed like an easy decision to make," Ryan says. He sold his tickets and used the money to travel to Louisiana with a truck full of provisions.
Denise, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

When Denise and her friend Tonya heard 25,000 hurricane evacuees were going to be sheltered in Houston, they knew what they had to do.

The two friends drove from Dallas to Houston to volunteer their time and services. They worked in the triage, treating people whose clothes were still stained from the New Orleans floodwaters. "So many incredible stories came out of this whole event," Denise says.
Lisa, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

After watching TV and seeing the destruction, Lisa told her daughter that she had to do something. Lisa flew from her home in New Jersey to Meridian, Mississippi, where she worked with the Key Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"[I] locked arms with the finest, most selfless, caring people on the face of this earth," Lisa says. "We dug through debris. We helped people find their families. ... I'll never be the same person."
Michelle, a Hurricane Katrina volunteer

Michelle volunteered for six weeks in Louisiana and still carries the photo of one man who touched her life. She says Monroe Parker, a homeless man she met, walked miles to get iced tea for police officers. "That's why I'm here today," she says, "because of the special, special homeless, displaced people that I met down there."

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