Obstetric Patients, Babies Evacuated to Baton Rouge

At Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., neo-natal patients and infants who were evacuated from New Orleans are receiving needed care. Some of the babies have been separated from their mothers.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Some of the youngest hurricane evacuees from New Orleans were only days old. Tiny babies were brought to Baton Rouge by car, bus and helicopter. Some came with their mothers; some alone, with rescue or medical personnel. Most ended up in Woman's Hospital. As NPR's John Ydstie reports, the staff at the hospital has been working to care for the smallest evacuees and reunite them with their mothers.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

The neonatal intensive care unit at Woman's Hospital is crowded: tiny babies in Plexiglas incubators, nurses in blue smocks, a doctor in scrubs injecting a baby who's having trouble breathing.

(Soundbite of baby crying)

YDSTIE: Some of these newborns were among the 67 evacuated from New Orleans hospitals. They began coming last Monday, but the final group arrived in dramatic fashion on Friday night as conditions were deteriorating and the water was rising at University Hospital in New Orleans. Officials here at Woman's Hospital, including Vice President Jamie Hauser(ph), were meeting with officials from Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness, trying desperately to find a way to get the babies out. Things weren't looking good, but then the tide changed.

Ms. JAMIE HAUSER (Vice President, Woman's Hospital): We don't know who it was, but they swooped in, in big green helicopters, and loaded up 29 babies and mamas. And, sure enough, we jump in the car and come back over here. And that wonderful whoop-whoop-whoop sound coming down on our helipad--and when those elevator doors opened and all I could see were babies, it was just--it was the most exciting moment of my life. It was just phenomenal.

YDSTIE: Stephen Spadell(ph) is one of the doctors who's cared for the New Orleans newborns. He says a number of the babies came in unaccompanied by any family member, but most have re-established contact.

Dr. STEPHEN SPADELL (Woman's Hospital): Of all the babies currently left in the hospital, there's only one baby now that we have not had contact with a direct family member. So originally when they came in, I think we had probably at least 10 babies that we didn't have contact with family members, but that's been resolved.

YDSTIE: Now, however, there's the challenge of keeping babies from the ICU close to their mothers.

Dr. SPADELL: I just got another phone call this morning from a hospital in Ohio. The mom is relocating there, and that baby, when stable, will go to Toledo Children's Hospital. We had a baby that went to Virginia two nights ago. Mom went to--is going to go live with a nurse--I'm sorry, her aunt. And this hospital, which has a NICU but doesn't have a transport team, came up with the money to get a transport team to come pick that baby up and take that baby back to Virginia.

YDSTIE: Even if the mothers stay in Baton Rouge, there are challenges. Some big, local shelters might take a mother and newborn but not the rest of the family, making it very difficult to keep families together. Also, women more than seven months pregnant are often not accepted at shelters. So local churches are stepping up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

YDSTIE: Frederica Collins(ph) found refuge just down the street from Woman's Hospital at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. She and her baby were among those evacuated by helicopter from Memorial Hospital in New Orleans.

Ms. FREDERICA COLLINS (Evacuee): We land on top of Woman's Hospital, and after that I stayed in Woman's for about two days. And then I was shipped over here at St. Luke Church.

YDSTIE: And where's your baby now?

Ms. COLLINS: He's still in the hospital. He's doing good also, yeah. Hopefully he'll be home soon, too.

YDSTIE: And what's your baby's name?

Ms. COLLINS: His name is Legend(ph).

YDSTIE: Frederica says the hurricane and the helicopter evacuation were a little scary. Her 10-year-old son Larry(ph) was left behind with her former husband. They ended up in the Superdome. But now Larry has joined her at St. Luke's Church, and things are looking up.

Ms. COLLINS: The shelter where I'm at is so nice. We have clean sheets, clean bedding, air-conditioned. Anything we need, all we have to do is ask. It's really nice, and I appreciate that. Yes, I love it here. (Laughs)

YDSTIE: One thing still worries Frederica, though: Her fiance, the father of her new baby, was left behind at the hospital in New Orleans when they evacuated, and Frederica doesn't know where he is. John Ydstie, NPR News, Baton Rouge.

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