September 5, 2017

'Whatever it takes': Doctors canoe, wade through Harvey floodwaters to treat patients

Daily Briefing

    During Hurricane Harvey's most brutal days, physicians trekked through floodwaters in boots, canoes, and high-water vehicles to ensure they could treat patients requiring time-sensitive care.

    When natural disasters threaten, here's how to protect your critical data—and your patients

    Harvey made landfall in Texas as a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 25. As of Friday, the storm was making its way through the Mississippi Valley, downgraded to a tropical depression.

    'Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes'

    On Saturday, Stephen Kimmel, a general pediatric surgeon at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, got a call that a young patient, Jacob Terrazas, was suffering from testicular torsion—a painful condition that if not treated promptly can cause permanent damage.

    Kimmel, who lives in Dickinson, Texas, immediately got in his car to visit Terrazas, but was forced to turn back because of rising floodwaters. Fortunately, two volunteer firefighters picked up Kimmel in their personal truck, where they had stashed a canoe in the truck bed.

    The trio drove as much of the distance as feasible before stopping the truck, unloading the canoe, and paddling through strong currents in the dark. They stopped about a mile from the hospital, where the water was calm enough for Kimmel to wade through waist-level floodwaters until he got to the facility.

    Meanwhile, Terrazas and his family were stranded on I-45 until the Webster Fire Department was able to dispatch an ambulance to convey them to the hospital. Hospital staff prepped Terrazas for surgery while waiting on Kimmel, who upon his arrival immediately changed into scrubs and headed into surgery. According to the Houston Public Media, the surgery was a success.

    Speaking on his efforts to reach the hospital in time, Kimmel said, "Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes. This young man's life would have been changed for the worse forever if we hadn't been able to perform surgery when we did." He added, "In the end, it all turned out very well."

    'This is the promise of MD Anderson—you will never walk alone'

    Kimmel wasn't the only provider who went above and beyond to help patients during the storm: At MD Anderson Cancer Center, all the team members involved in one cancer patient's time-sensitive care managed to reach the medical facility on Monday for a scheduled treatment.

    According to STAT News, the patient, John Cormier, had travelled more than 100 miles from Louisiana to MD Anderson earlier last month to receive adoptive T cell therapy, a cutting-edge cancer treatment that uses the patient's own immune cells to kill the melanoma tumors in his body.

    But the timing of the procedure was critical, NBC News reports: Cormier had been in the hospital about a week undergoing chemotherapy to eradicate his bone marrow cells in anticipation of the infusion of the new immune cells. The infusion was scheduled for Aug. 28, and delaying the procedure could compromise its effectiveness.

    Cormier's team of providers on Aug. 27 began making arrangements to get to the hospital to start treatment on the scheduled date. One of physicians—Adi Diab, an oncologist who specializes in melanoma—waded about three miles through the floodwaters from his home to his office in his only pair of boots, having to backtrack multiple times to find a navigable way to the facility.

    Another team member—Marie-Andrée Forget, a senior research scientist who prepared the cells—had an easier time reaching the facility, but she had to leave her home as a water stain grew on her ceiling, swelling about two feet. A third, MD Anderson CMO Karen Lu, waded through waist-level waters to reach a high-water vehicle that had not been able to get through the flooding around Lu's house.

    "The whole team showed up and I was able to get my T-cells transplanted back into my body," Cormier said. "It is truly amazing." According to Diab, the patient still faces a long road to recovery, but he seemed to tolerate the treatment well.

    Diab said of his efforts, "This is the promise of MD Anderson—you will never walk alone, and I will never let him walk alone." But he shrugged off praise, saying, "I know this might sound like a heroic story, but this is a regular story that happens in many different flavors for many patients at many other care providers ... I'm not trying to be humble. (But) I was not the only one" (Houston Public Media, 8/29; Paavola, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/30; Fox, NBC News, 8/31; Blau, STAT News, 8/31).

    Make sure your natural disaster plan includes these key elements

    A robust and well-tested IT disaster recovery plan can help your organization withstand service disruptions including cyber incidents, human error, hardware and software malfunctions, and natural disasters.

    Download our research briefing to discover the three critical areas to consider when creating your recovery plan—and to learn how Halifax Health protected its data, its staff, and its patients when Hurricane Matthew struck Daytona Beach last year.

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