Hospital patients and emergency crews are recovering following evacuation chaos
Hurricane Ian's destruction in Southwest Florida led some hospitals to evacuate their patients to other facilities throughout the state.
Nikijha Lynch Escobar and her 4-month old son, Jireh, are at Johns Hopkins All Children's hospital in St. Petersburg. Jireh is recovering from a respiratory virus.
The peaceful room they now sit together in is the opposite of what was a chaotic week for the Fort Myers family.
The weekend before Ian made landfall, Esobar and her husband noticed Jireh was struggling to breathe. After going to a pediatrician, they took him back home, only for his condition to worsen as the storm drew closer.
“As Wednesday hit and power went out, just before that, he was just kind of getting used to the humidifier as some sort of relief,” Escobar said. “And then power was out, and from that point on, it was as if he was beginning to struggle.”
With the roads closed because of the hurricane, the Escobar family had to wait for emergency crews to come the next morning.
“I remember just moments of laying my hands on his body, and just praying and calling out to God to please, please let my baby just make it,” Escobar said.
And shortly after arriving at a Fort Myers hospital on Thursday, the Escobars were told most patients needed to evacuate, because the facility was deemed unsafe and had no drinking water.
Hospital officials said they would use a helicopter to move Jireh to All Children's, but they didn't know if Escobar could go with them.
"My stomach dropped,” Escobar said. “I'm thinking the helicopters coming to take him, and I've just been told I may not be able to go. Now in just in this little bit of time, I'm gonna have to be prepared mentally to pack him up and send him without me to another city.”
Ultimately, Escobar was able to make it onto the flight to St. Pete, and she's grateful for the transportation crews and hospital staff.
“I feel safe,” Escobar said. “He has shown so much improvement, so there's a sense of peace about it. And while I miss my husband and my kids, and they don't have power, I'm happy because I know, we're better off here than we would be at home right now.”
Escobar said she’s hoping Jireh will be discharged by the end of the first week of October.
In total, 67 infants had to be evacuated from Southwest Florida hospitals to regions throughout the state. All Children's has 21 of them.
The helicopter crew at Johns Hopkins All Children's transported pediatric patients 13 times following the storm.
Justin McManus is a neonatal pediatric flight nurse who took part in about half of the flights. He says seeing so many families dealing with the chaos was eye-opening.
“It's been tough when you sit back and think, you know, when I get off of work today, I'm going to a home that has power,” McManus said. “All of my shingles are still on my roof. My car is still drivable, my house is not flooded. And my kid is not being flown to another city 100 miles from where they are.”
According to the state, hundreds of patients were evacuated from 15 different hospitals throughout Florida, primarily in the southwest.
McManus also said it was inspiring to see staff at hospitals under evacuation continue to work under dire conditions.
“Despite what's going on without them, despite literally their cars flooding out and tore up in the in the parking lot, despite them not having running water, despite any of that, they still maintained focus on their patients,” McManus said.
Chief Flight Nurse Julie Bacon is a program manager at All Children’s. She said the widespread collaboration between the hospital systems in the state under the emergency was needed, and welcomed.
“To watch probably 10 different hospitals and aircraft all coming together, no politics, no business, just for the kids, we're all on a single text group… it's just amazing,” Bacon said.
For Escobar, her attention is now focused on her two older children and husband, who are still without power in Fort Myers.
She’s also concerned about her mother and grandmother’s home, which saw significant flooding and tree damage from the storm. They had to leave the house because the water seeping in had reached their knees.
“Just talking to my mom and hearing just some of the thoughts that have gone through my grandmother's head, in some of the moments of reflection,” Escobar said. “I just want her to have peace of mind.”
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