I was not at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) for Hurricane Ike. I arrived to work at UTMB one year and a day afterward.

My first day of work at UTMB, I remember standing in the grassy area in front of John Sealy Hospital in Galveston, Texas, during the Hurricane Ike Commemoration Ceremony. UTMB President David Callender, MD, MBA, was surrounded by a small group of employees who listened to him talk about the progress the organization had made over the past year, and he reflected on the experiences of the first days after the storm. He recalled the extraordinary effort of some of our colleagues who made sure the UTMB sign on John Sealy Towers was lit. When the ceremony ended, the UTMB flag was raised by two of our students. I stood at the back of the small crowd, listening and watching the emotions of the people there — it was obvious that the memories of this experience were still quite vivid and emotions were still raw. There was still much healing to be done.

About two years ago, UTMB had the opportunity to host the University of Texas (UT) System Board of Regents and members of UT System leadership at a dinner reception. That evening, Joan Richardson, MD, chair of the department of pediatrics, spoke of her love of heroes when she was a girl. She told us that she had always wanted to know a hero, but never had a chance to know one — that is, until September 2008. As she described the work of hundreds of people who rode out the storm and the many others who came back to work tirelessly to reopen UTMB, she said that she realized she knew hundreds of heroes. They came from every walk of life, and they all had one thing in common — their resolve to reopen UTMB. UTMB stopped for no storm.

Handling a Different Type of Emergency

This past Wednesday, I experienced what Dr. Richardson described. I was walking toward the administration building on the Galveston campus when I saw a fire truck and two escort cars arrive in the front of John Sealy Hospital. It is not unusual to see an emergency vehicle or two in front of the hospital from time to time, but as I watched, two of our police officers run past me and into the east entrance of John Sealy Hospital. I realized something serious was happening.

Within minutes, we learned that a fire, yet uncontained, had broken out on the second floor and that smoke was in the stairwells and moving throughout the building. We declared an emergency at UTMB.

Working with local fire departments, a decision was made to evacuate the 110 patients, their visitors, and our staff in John Sealy Hospital. Although this was an intense situation, our staff, physicians, and managers remained calm and focused on getting everyone out of the building. As the patients were being safely transferred out of the building, we simultaneously needed to decide where to place the patients. Administrators, doctors, and managers worked together under pressure to identify the best places to continue care for our patients in our care facilities. It was a challenging situation, but everyone problem-solved and worked together to get what was needed to help our patients.

A hero is defined as someone who makes a personal sacrifice in order to benefit others or someone who is noted for their courageous action. I now know from my own experience what it is like to work with hundreds of heroes. Everyone who made the safe evacuation of 110 patients possible on Wednesday is a hero.

Thank you to the Galveston Firefighters, the Galveston County Health District EMS, the Galveston Police Department, Island Transit, the Houston Fire Department, and Santa Fe Fire & Rescue for coming to UTMB’s aid!