Lessons learned from Katrina, 9/11, SARS, and other disasters
The panel included Dr. Ben DeBoisblanc, medical director of the intensive care unit at Charity Hospital in New Orleans; Dr. Walter Franz, a family medical physician who is part of Operation Minnesota Lifeline at the Mayo Clinic; Dr. Donald E. Low, microbiologist-in-chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto; former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, now with the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions at Deloitte & Touche; and Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, deputy commisioner of the division of disease control at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Nancy Shute, senior writer for U.S. News, moderated the panel.
SHUTE: I'm here to introduce four men who are the real deal. They've really been on the front lines of everything we are talking about as far as meeting the disaster, being challenged, and rising to meet an occasion that I think none of them frankly ever expected that they would be in, despite their extensive training.
In Washington we spend a lot of time talking about probabilities and possibilities instead of what is happening in the real world. These men saved desperately ill people from Charity Hospital in New Orleans, they treated wounded civilians in Iraq, they raced to discover the cause of a mysterious plague called SARS while patients and colleagues were dying in hospitals. They manned the front lines during 9/11, and are working to prepare for pandemic flu and whatever the next disaster is. Their reports from the front lines tell us how that hard-won knowledge might be used to save us when the next disasters arise.
Ben DuBoisblanc is the medical director of the medical intensive care unit at Charity Hospital, Medical Center of Louisiana in New Orleans. He and his staff evacuated 50 critical care patients to the roof of the parking garage and kept those patients alive, often by hand-squeezing air into their lungs.
He said at the time, "We were trusted with the lives of these people that we weren't sure were going to pull through. We didn't have the resources to protect their interests. We were very worried that some of them would die."
At one point in the five-day ordeal when they were trapped in Charity Hospital during Katrina, Dr. DuBoisblanc had to perform emergency surgery in the back of a truck on one young patient whose lung had collapsed. Using a flashlight, he used a knife to puncture the young man's chest, inserted a tube to reinflate his lung with anesthesia. It took four people to hold him down, but they saved his life.
Dr. Walter Franz is a family medicine physician and works with Operation Minnesota Lifeline for the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Franz has been a staff member there since 1982. He is also on the board of the American Refugee Committee and has worked with operations in Sarajevo and Albania to help evacuees.
Most recently he served as a colonel in the Army Reserve with the 416th Civil Affairs Battalion in Mosul, Iraq. In an earlier deployment to Jordan in 2002, his mission was to organize refugee operations. And last September he helped organize medical efforts to help evacuees during Katrina.