NICU staff stayed behind to care for 19 babies as Hurricane Laura hit

Winds howled, water leaked through windows and the generators kicked on at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. Despite it all, the NICU staff kept all 19 of its babies safe through the Category 4 storm.

“It’s important to know the dedication of all the nurses and the respiratory therapists to keep taking care of the babies when they don’t even know the condition of their homes,” Dr. Juan Bossano told CNN on Thursday. “In a small town like this, people have to pull together. I’m proud of them.”

The residents of Lake Charles knew the hurricane was headed for their city, with mandatory evacuation order in place. The city got some of the worst of the storm, with an hour of 120-135 mph wind gusts as the eyewall crossed, according to the National Weather Service.

Bossano and a team of 14 nurses, 2 neonatal nurse practitioners and 3 respiratory therapists hunkered down in the NICU all night, he said. Two teams took shifts caring for the little angels, the staff trying to get some sleep when they could.

This is what it looks like in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after Hurricane Laura hit

The staff had their hands full, said Bossano, who has been a neonatologist for more than 30 years.

Some of the babies were on respirators and ventilators, some as small as one or two pounds, Bossano said. Some of them were born premature at just 23 weeks.

There was no air conditioning and in the middle of the night, the water went out in the hospital.

Alesha Alford, vice president and administrator for Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women, noticed how well the staff came together in the uncertain situation.

“It was scary for everyone,” Alford said. “When the winds got so bad, we had to move our patients into the hallways. Staff were sleeping in the hallways with patients.

During the rough night, Bossano posted an update about the babies on his Facebook page knowing it was the easiest way to calm the fears of many of the parents who were worried about their little ones.

The babies were doing “better than all of us,” he wrote.

The tiny patients had already had a wild ride before the hurricane blew through, Bossano said. Earlier that day, the threat of flooding forced the NICU to evacuate from Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women to the main hospital.

Hospital staff cleared out the NICU and transfered patients in two hours.

“In two hours’ time, we transferred 19 NICU babies from that facility to our main campus,” said Matt Felder, director of communications for Lake Charles Memorial Health system.

“They did it in record time, 19 babies across the city in under two hours,” he said. They had to do it before conditions became too dangerous.

Ambulances transported the babies to the bigger hospital — one with 10 floors instead of the women’s hospital that only houses patients on one floor, Alford said.

Doctors, residents, the sheriff’s department and others helped transport the precious cargo and all of the equipment and supplies the staff needed to keep the babies safe. Respirators, incubators and all sorts of items were taken to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

How you can help Hurricane Laura victims

“We had 19 NICU babies with four on ventilators, some of them very sick, and we were out in 2 hours,” Alford said. “I have never seen something work so quick and so smooth for something that was unexpected.”

Now the babies are in for one more ambulance ride. The main hospital did not have water service as of Thursday evening, Felder said. Laura knocked out most of the water service in Lake Charles, City Administrator John Cardone told CNN.

With only two NICUs in Lake Charles, the babies will be transferred to other hospitals in the state, Felder said.

“This morning because the babies were stable, I got a couple of hours of sleep — we are still in the hospital,” Bossano said in between coordinating the 19 transfers.

When calling the NICU on Thursday, a chorus of cheering erupted. A staff member told CNN that staff was celebrating because the first patient was being transferred to another hospital.

“It’s a bright spot in this horrific tragedy our community is facing,” Felder said.

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