Courage Amid Katrina's Chaos

Just two weeks ago, Hunter Reeves married Kristy Arceneaux in a wedding ceremony that was remarkable, not just because of the wonderful occasion, but because it took place at all. Just a few months ago Reeves was clinging to life in an intensive care unit when Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans, leaving him and other patients perilously close to death.

Reeves was at New Orleans' Charity Hospital. His lungs were filling with fluid. His kidneys were failing. And his life was in the hands of a remarkable medical team led by Dr. Ben DeBoisBlanc.

DeBoisBlanc, better known as Dr. Ben, ran the intensive care unit at Charity Hospital and Dr. Peter Deblieux ran the emergency room and helped teach emergency medicine.

An Unprecedented Test to Historic Hospital

While nature put Reeves and patients like him in unlucky circumstances, he was extraordinarily fortunate -- he was at Charity Hospital.

The hospital doesn't just represent top-notch medical care, it means something more to the community. "That hospital stands for a lot of things, and it mostly stands for taking care of all patients regardless of their ability to pay," said DeBoisBlanc.

"Seventy percent of the doctors that practice within the state of Louisiana came through the halls of Charity Hospital. Seventy percent. We're committed to the care of our patients. It's the mission of the hospital," Deblieux added.

That mission was about to be tested as never before. Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on the city and the doctors and hospital staff were literally camping out in the hospital halls in sleeping bags, preparing for the worst.

Both Deblieux and DeBoisBlanc had been through hurricanes before, but each said they felt this storm was going to be different.

"Typically when we do activations, it's two days of flurry and a lot of activity and then ... everybody goes home. In this case we had the sense that it was going to be a bit more substantial," Deblieux said.

DeBoisBlanc said he considered taking a photo of his late father with him to work that day. "I was leaving and I saw a picture of my father and his boat hanging on the wall. And I went to grab it and I had this premonition that maybe I shouldn't, that I should leave it there for some reason. I think I had a sense that maybe his spirit would kind of look over things because I clearly had a sense that this was going to be different," he said.

Damage to the hospital seemed minimal at first, but the floodwaters continued to rise and backup generators were failing.

"It wasn't until Tuesday morning when our other backup generator went out and the sun came up and we could see that the whole city was flooding from every direction that we realized we were in big trouble," DeBoisBlanc said.

Water flooded the basement and the stairwells and was threatening the first floor. In about two hours, the hospital staff hurriedly carried 50 seriously ill patients, their ventilators and medical equipment up a flight of stairs. Without air conditioning, the temperature inside the hospital approached 100 degrees.

"The heat and humidity was outrageous. ... At about 72 hours after we had had two days of no power, no electricity to run elevators, no showering conditions, no toilets that worked, people kind of began to lose it," Deblieux said.

Without power in the intensive care unit, monitors and ventilators failed, and nurses and doctors kept patients alive by hand.

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