New Orleans Hospital Protects Most Vulnerable

Barely two weeks old, Charlize Rougeou was fighting for her life after undergoing open-heart surgery, when her parents learned there was another threat to the infant's life: Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on New Orleans and the hospital where she was receiving care.

Six hours after Charlize was born, her parents, Chandelle and Hunter Rougeou, learned that she had a serious heart problem -- she'd been born with the arteries in her heart reversed, which prevents her from getting enough oxygen in her blood.

Due to her condition, Charlize hasn't left the New Orleans Children's Hospital; and early today, as Gustav was moving ashore, many feared that she might never see her home in Lafayette, La.

The mayor of New Orleans had ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, and warned that Gustav could be the "mother of all storms" when it hit, but even so, the Rougeous felt that the hospital was their safe haven.

Vulnerable Patients
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"We're just going to ride this one out at the hospital," Hunter Rougeou said.

Chandelle said she thought that, because of her daughter's condition, the best place for Charlize was inside the hospital, where she was surrounded by doctors and nurses, and hooked up to numerous monitors.

"They treat [Charlize] like it's their baby," Chandelle said, comparing the nurses and doctors to angels.

The doctors and staff at the Children's Hospital have learned the hard way how to handle any storm.

After Hurricane Katrina hit three years ago, when the city's water shut off, the hospital staff had to evacuate; they went to great lengths to secure quality care for their patients.

"We drilled a well," said Brian Landry, the hospital's vice president of marketing. "We went down 800 feet, so we can supply water to make sure we're not dependent upon anything in the community for us to be able to operate."

On Saturday, the Children's Hospital implemented its emergency plan, gathering enough generators, staff and fuel to remain open and operating with electricity and air conditioning for three weeks. The hospital said that it would do anything to protect the babies and ensure the care of all of its patients.

"You've just got to take care of your kids, and you do the best you can with what you have when you're there," said Mary, a nurse at the hospital.

While Gustav's strong winds and rain lashed the city, a miracle occurred within the hospital room: Charlize grew stronger.

Charlize opened her eyes, and her chest began to rise and fall on its own. Doctors were able to remove the monitors attached to her body.

"We walked in here, her eyes were open, she was starting to twitch around," Hunter said. "That's the first time that happened since Tuesday morning when we took her back to surgery.

"I made a comment the other day to one of the nurses here that the baby was crying," he said. "I said, 'I can't wait to hear that. It's going to be so nice.'"

After the storm today, a rainbow appeared for the Rougeous when they heard their baby cry for the first time, winning her battle for life.

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