Storm chasers to the rescue
Baptist Health team members answer the call for help during record-setting hurricane season.
Johnny Woodhouse Published: 3/7/2018
Last August, when hospitals in the Houston area were severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey, medical air transport companies from around the country were called to provide crucial air medical support, including pediatric patient transfers.
The duo, Nicole Lanier, a pediatric critical care nurse, and Pete Mrgich, a pediatric respiratory therapist, flew to Texas in Air Life 12, a single-engine plane that periodically flies pediatric patients who are too critical to be transferred by the Kids Kare Mobile ICU or the Life Flight helicopter to Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
“Our hospital administrators said ‘Do what you have to do, and we will cover your shifts here. They didn’t ask any questions. They just said ‘go,’ ” said Lanier, who along with Mrgich spent more than a week in Texas, operating out of airports in Grand Prairie and College Station.
The pair arrived at Grand Prairie Municipal Airport near Dallas on Sunday, Aug. 27, two days after Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi as a Category 4 hurricane. Their first mission was to transport two NICU babies from a Houston hospital that had all but exhausted its hurricane supplies.
During their eight days in Texas, Lanier and Mrgich transported patients by air and by ground ambulance and were often one of the few pediatric transfer teams in their staging areas. Mrgich said each mission could last up to six or seven hours. “You would circle an airport, land and refuel and then wait for your turn to take off again,” he recalled. Lanier said the air traffic was very high and what they saw on the ground often broke their hearts. “When we flew to Beaumont, Texas, we saw houses covered in water right up to the rooftops.”
Lanier, a former Wolfson Children’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit nurse, has been with the Kids Kare team for more than five years. “It’s a great feeling to be able to help the families of sick children. You are taking care of their most precious possessions,” said Lanier. “Some of the hospitals in Texas are not blessed with the resources we have here at Wolfson Children’s. We institute our same standard of care everywhere we go.”
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico a month later, Karen Ketchie, director of emergency management for Baptist Health, grabbed her go-bag and headed for the island. Since 1997, she has been a member of a federal disaster medical assistance team that volunteers to deploy to hurricanes, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
In Puerto Rico, Ketchie commanded a 35-member medical team that spent nearly three weeks helping the people of the island. Her tour of duty included a stint at a 70-bed federal medical station in the coastal town of Manati, approximately 50 miles west of the capital city of San Juan.
Set up in an indoor sports arena, the medical station served as both a shelter and an urgent care clinic for citizens who had difficulty being seen at area hospitals but still needed around-the-clock care. “There was no electricity outside the arena and we had people who required electricity to run their breathing machines,” added Ketchie, a registered nurse for more than 25 years. “Some of the patients even required hospice care. Our goal was to keep them as comfortable as possible and treat all their medical needs.
“I’ve been in the national disaster system since 1997 and it’s so important to give recognition to Baptist Health for allowing me to keep helping people in their time of need.”