Staff members of Lake Charles Memorial Hospital remained at their posts in order to care for 19 babies in the NICU, despite a mandatory evacuation order as Hurricane Laura approached Louisiana on Thursday.
Dr. Juan Bossano, 14 nurses, 2 neonatal nurse practitioners, and 3 respiratory therapists tended to the babies through the night as Hurricane Laura made landfall. Lake Charles was one of the cities heaviest hit by the category 4 storm.
“It’s important to know the dedication of all the nurses and the respiratory therapists to keep taking care of the babies when they don’t even know the condition of their homes,” Bossano told CNN. “In a small town like this, people have to pull together. I’m proud of them.”
Hurricane Laura had intensified from a category 1 storm on Tuesday to a category 4 storm by Wednesday, spurning officials to declare a mandatory evacuation order.
As citizens evacuated the area that day, ahead of Laura’s landfall, the staff at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital were busy transporting all nineteen infants from one hospital location to another due to threats of flooding. Infants, ventilators, and all other equipment necessary for the well-being of the patients, were carried across the city within two hours – a record time, according to Matt Felder, the director of communications for Lake Charles Memorial Health System.
Vice President and Administrator for Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women Alesha Alford praised the staff’s transportation efforts. “We had 19 NICU babies with four on ventilators, some of them very sick, and we were out in 2 hours. I have never seen something work so quick and so smooth for something that was unexpected.”
Laura made landfall at 1 AM that Thursday morning. It traveled northward with wind gusts of 120-135 miles per hour through Lake Charles, causing major damage in the downtown area and even starting a chemical fire at an industrial plant.
It’s being called one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Louisiana in U.S. history.
“It was scary for everyone,” Alford said of the harrowing night. “When the winds got so bad, we had to move our patients into the hallways. Staff were sleeping in the hallways with patients.”
Staff took shifts between sleeping and caring for the infants, some of whom were sick or on ventilators. Some of the smallest babies only weighed one or two pounds. Some had been born as early as 23 weeks.
Laura knocked out the air conditioning and the water service in the hospital. Despite all threats, the staff and the infants survived through the night. The babies are now being transported to other hospitals in the state for care while Lake Charles recovers from the storm.
“It’s a bright spot in this horrific tragedy our community is facing,” said Felder.
President Trump is currently visiting the state to survey the damage. At least 16 people have died in Louisiana and Texas due to the storm.