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Tuesday, August 29th 2006

In The Midst of Disaster

It is the anniversary of Katrina. Come September the American Medical Association (Medical Stuednt Section) Region III meeting is being held in New Orleans. The theme for the convention is “Doctors In Disasters,” and in that light this story is highly releavant and amazing.

In the deluge of miscommunication right after the storm, Charity reportedly was evacuated. But we [the press] had learned it was not so. Hundreds of patients and dozens of staff remained inside, waiting for help with no electricity, no running water and dwindling supplies. The world needed to know their story.

“We can get you in, but we can’t get you out,” Dr. Alan Marr, a Charity hospital trauma surgeon, said that day, standing next to a helicopter that had just finished an evacuation run to Baton Rouge airport. Moments later we were beside him, flying south.

Housed in a mammoth art deco building since the 1930′s, Charity was the nation’s second-oldest hospital. Over the decades, millions of people had come to this building for health care — everything from emergencies to clinic visits to surgeries. Quite simply, Charity hospital gave life to the city.

But four days after Katrina blasted New Orleans, downtown was flooded. Nearly everyone had run to higher ground. There were rumors of car and ambulance jackings.

“We were doing all we could to get our patients out that day,” said Marr, 50, who had been working at Charity Hospital for four years when the storm hit. “We came together and did the best we could.”

With no official plan, Charity doctors began to evacuate their sickest patients, first by boat, across the moat of chest-deep water surrounding the hospital, and then up the stairs to a parking deck. Once on the top floor, patients and doctors waited for choppers to evacuate them. Some patients were hand-ventilated by bag for hours. Two died before help arrived.

Marr stayed at Charity for almost a week after Katrina. He was there when the last patient was evacuated. He was there when the doors were locked for good.

And even after Katrina, to this day,

At a time when up to three-quarters of the area’s doctors have left New Orleans, Dr. Alan Marr has stayed. Many of those physicians who remain have deep roots in New Orleans with families going back generations. Marr does not.

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