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Recalling Evacuation of Tulane Hospital


When we last spoke with Dr. Jeff Myers on Friday, he and his colleagues were stranded in Tulane Hospital. They were tending to hundreds of patients coming in from nearby Charity Hospital to be airlifted out of the city. Once the last patients were evacuated, Dr. Myers says the staff and family members had no idea if the helicopters were coming back for them.

Good morning, Dr. Myers.

Dr. JEFF MYERS (Tulane Hospital): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What has happened to you since last Friday?

Dr. MYERS: Well, since Friday we got out about 10:30 in the morning, and we were airlifted out and we were taken to the airport there and from there by bus to Lafayette where we underwent decontamination by FEMA, and then everyone went to a kind of a refugee center there where we, you know, were able to make plans to get to our final destination.

MONTAGNE: So you are an evacuee at this moment.

Dr. MYERS: I'm an evacuee, and I think according to the federal government I'm a refugee.

MONTAGNE: Well, may I ask if the staff managed to evacuate all of your patients alive?

Dr. MYERS: Tulane had no fatalities. We had--a hundred percent of our patients, faculty, staff and family were evacuated alive.

MONTAGNE: And the Charity patients?

Dr. MYERS: We lost at least two patients there in our garage, you know, waiting to transport them out, and by the time I left, there was still probably 200 more that needed to be evacuated, along with faculty and family and staff.

MONTAGNE: Could you tell if those two patients who did not make it might have lived had, you know, help come sooner, evacuation been earlier?

Dr. MYERS: It's very possible. There's no question. I mean, these are older patients and very sick, and they required a very high level of monitoring and very specific drugs. And if they could have been taken out in a more organized fashion, they would have had a chance to survive.

MONTAGNE: You told us last week about a particularly vivid-sounding case, a 15-year-old heart patient whose heart literally had to be pumped by hand as he was evacuated from the hospital. Do you know how he is now?

Dr. MYERS: He's doing very well. He is in Houston. He's at the children's hospital there. I actually received a call telling me that he's doing very well. He's perfectly stable and he has had absolutely no problems from this. He's definitely one of our huge success stories.

MONTAGNE: Well, good news for you all. Before you left, conditions had deteriorated pretty badly. Would you remind us what it was like just as you were trying to get out?

Dr. MYERS: Well, absolutely. You know, Tulane is a complex. It's a medical school connected by a bridge to a hospital and then that parking lot is the hospital parking lot that we evacuated from. And as the four or five days went by there, we eventually lost our ability to secure the medical school, and on about the third day, everyone moved into the hospital. And then by the last night, which was, for us, Thursday night, we had lost our ability to secure the hospital, and we had looters and other people in the hospital. So at that point, our security force could only secure the parking garage itself. And the last night we actually had airlifted in a Marine sniper, and so he was on the roof with us. But we'd already had several days of people trying to get in the garage and climb over the walls, and our rescue missions had been halted on both nights because of people shooting at the helicopters as they tried to take off, and there were also some shots fired at the boats coming from Charity, so it was a very difficult situation to sort of secure our area and be able to allow them to safely evacuate these patients.

MONTAGNE: You know, this sounds just as shocking hearing this now as it did I think when it was happening...

Dr. MYERS: Right.

MONTAGNE: ...like a war zone right there in the middle of New Orleans, in the middle of Tulane Hospital.

Dr. MYERS: To me, that's what it felt like. I mean, a--we were under fire. We had a military presence protecting us and military helicopters landing on the roof to take people out. So I don't know how different it is in actual combat, but it was as close as I would ever want to be.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Myers, thanks very much.

Dr. MYERS: Oh, absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Dr. Jeff Myers is the chief of pediatric heart surgery at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.