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A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but braver five minutes longer.

Sep 8, 2017, 10:21 AM by Mary Feldhusen

Donna Sollenberger - headshotLast Friday, as Tropical Storm Harvey moved out of Galveston and the Bay Area, many of us were wrapping up a long week. However, the storm’s impact was still being felt in other communities we serve, and the UTMB Angleton Danbury Campus, a number of our clinics, and many of our Correctional Managed Care (CMC) units were still operating in emergency mode with colleagues riding out the storm.

Today, the campus in Angleton and all of our CMC locations are back to normal operations. We have also reopened almost all of our clinics. With that said, I want to thank all of our employees and physicians who worked so hard during this extended emergency status to assure that our patients were well cared for and that our staff were safe.

It seems that in emergency situations, the best in humanity shines through. I have definitely seen this happening in the Greater Houston area and all throughout UTMB. In trying times, people come together to help each other. We are no exception. I have heard stories of UTMB employees opening their homes to family, friends and community members who lost their homes or had significant property damage. I have heard that many of you have reached out to colleagues who lost their vehicles to see if they needed rides to work. I have heard of others who decided to volunteer to help others – many with their entire family – by helping to remove drywall, flooring and destroyed belongings so that people could begin rebuilding. In all of this, I marvel at the generosity of strangers and the strong spirit of Texans.

Harvey not only produced wind and rain, but the storm also produced many moving stories. After my Friday Flash Report last week, it is no surprise that even more stories have come in, some of which have already been shared on UTMB Health’s Facebook page. Other narratives are slated to appear later this month in Impact magazine. It will surely be difficult to tell all of the stories, but this week, I wanted to share just a few more highlights from all three of our campuses and CMC locations where employees and physicians went above and beyond to assure our patients received the care they needed.

Dr. Wayne Rutledge at UTMB’s League City Campus Emergency Department during Tropical Storm Harvey.

Dr. Wayne Rutledge, who works in the emergency department (ED) in League City, could not drive his car into the campus due to rising water, so he rode his bike! He provided much needed expertise during the weather emergency. 

Kelly Ferguson is a nurse educator at UTMB. In the middle of the storm, she showed up at the League City ED, where she previously worked, with a stack of pizzas. She then proceeded to stay and work the next several nursing shifts to relieve some of her weary peers, even though she technically doesn’t work in the ED anymore. Once an ED nurse, always an ED nurse!

Nurse Stacey Laury, who works at the Jester III Unit in Richmond, lives in an area that was hit hard by the storm. She lost her vehicle and her home was flooded with nearly a foot of water. Although she experienced a great deal of personal loss as a result of the storm, she was willing to come in and help with anything that needed to be done. She was able to get rides from other team members to and from the unit and helped with everything from wound care to diabetic management to medication administration. 

Alex Williams, assistant practice manager at the TDCJ Beaumont cluster, delivered pizza, hamburgers, snacks, water and personal hygiene products to the staff who sheltered in place at the Stiles, Gist and LeBlanc facilities. He spent more than $500 of his own money to ensure that staff had what they needed to make it through the week.

Like most Texans, Teri Smith, a UTMB nurse who works at the TDCJ Hughes Unit, and her husband, Johnny, wanted to help with the devastation on the coast from Hurricane Harvey. On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 30, she emailed her supervisors expressing their desire to take water and supplies to those in need. They wanted to go as representatives of UTMB and TDCJ, so they spoke with the wardens from the Hughes and Woodman Units. The units and UTMB employees were very supportive of this idea, so the Smiths set up a donation center at a local shopping center the next evening. The response was overwhelming from the units, UTMB staff and private citizens. They received enough clothing, pet food and supplies to fill a 20-foot covered trailer, the back of two pickup trucks and one private car. They also had a 24-foot stock trailer with 7,000 pounds of bottled water on it. On Sept. 1, their team set out to take the donation to the Civic Center in Beaumont. All along their journey, which was long and full of challenges, they received help from other Good Samaritans. When they reached their destination, however, they discovered that all the evacuees had left with the Red Cross. Ultimately, the team was able to take the donation to Port Arthur, where Teri said the devastation was terrible and the need for supplies was great. They were not only able to help the citizens of Port Arthur, but also police and workers who were also in dire need of food and water due to the widespread damage in the region.  

At Angleton Danbury, Jason Garner was an invaluable team member. Garner, who is nurse manager of the emergency department, volunteered to be on the first rotation of managers to ride out the storm on campus and assisted with trauma activations around the clock. Katrina Lambrecht, administrator at UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus, told me that thanks to his great relationships with EMS providers and others throughout the community, he was able to help leadership stay on top of road conditions, secure transportation for patients as quickly as the weather allowed, and also helped arrange for the retrieval of blood and platelets from the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport, which were later delivered by helicopter to Galveston. Ms. Lambrecht also said Trauma Coordinator Andrea Anderson, along with Drs. Shebey Thomas and Phillip Singer, the Facilities and Environmental Services teams, Nurse Michele Grace, Respiratory Therapist Vincent Showalter, CT Technologist Devon Mican, Coordinator Bobbie Bair and so many others, spent long hours on campus and were instrumental to providing exceptional patient care and service during the storm.

Dr. Leah Low, Rebecca Castro and Yvette Castellanos worked tirelessly in the aftermath of Harvey to lead the efforts to safely discharge patients from Jennie Sealy Hospital so we would have capacity for patients who needed hospitalization. The community resources for discharge support were strained, but working with an amazing staff, they got the job done.

UTMB staff members helped one another out in the community setting, as well. I received a touching account sent in by UTMB Systems Analyst Morgan McClure in which he described how Kevin Haslam, assistant vice president of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, came to his aid when his single-story home flooded. McClure’s family was forced to retreat to the upper level of their garage the evening of the flood. The next morning, he contacted his neighbor for help, who showed up accompanied by two gentlemen, Haslam and son. With a kayak in tow, they took the family to a dry location. Afterward, the Haslam Family was kind enough to provide room and board to the McClures and also helped remove damaged materials from their property. In Morgan’s words, “I’m so very thankful [Kevin] is a part of the UTMB team; had he not been, it’s quite possible that I would be looking back on this event with total despair instead of fond memories of laughter, accomplishment and greater sense of community.”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but braver five minutes longer.” The stories of UTMB heroes are countless. From clinicians to team members in Food Services, Environmental Services, Facilities, Payroll, Clinical Equipment Services, Ancillary Services, Information Services, Purchasing, Security and more, the UTMB community truly rose to the occasion and were tremendously devoted to our patients, the communities we serve, and to one another during this event. Thank you again for everything YOU do to take the very Best Care of our patients and one another!