Miss. Couple Opens Health Clinic in Home

Desperation brought on by Hurricane Katrina led Sandy and Dan Lester of McLaurin, Miss., to open a makeshift health clinic in their home. Dan Lester has extensive experience in disaster relief, having served with the U.S. Army tank automotive command.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In the small town of McLaurin, Mississippi, Dan and Sandy Lester ended up turning their three-bedroom house into a makeshift health clinic after the hurricane struck. Their town is just off the highway that leads down to the Gulf Coast, but aid was passing them by, so the Lesters took matters into their own hands.

Dan Lester, explain how your house came to be a health clinic.

Mr. DAN LESTER: It started off with the fire department looking for someone that had a working air conditioner for a premature baby, brought the young child and the mother here, and the next thing we knew, they had a cancer patient and they needed a place to put him and it just kind of mushroomed from there.

BLOCK: So you had something that was gold, I guess. You must have had a generator going.

Mr. LESTER: Yes, ma'am. I have a 18 kw generator that's powered by a tractor.

BLOCK: That's 18,000 watts.

Mr. LESTER: Yes, 18 kw.

BLOCK: Now how many patients were you treating in your house?

Mr. LESTER: We've had anywhere from 10 to 50 or 60 through here in a day.

BLOCK: In a day?

Mr. LESTER: In a day.

SIEGEL: So that's hundreds over the last 10 days?

Mr. LESTER: It could be. I never tried to count them to start with.

SIEGEL: Now who was taking care of these patients?

Mr. LESTER: McLaurin first responders. We have a field medic that came in here from Oklahoma. We have some local nurses that have been in here. We also have a doctor out of Chalmette, Louisiana, that came in, and it just kind of mushroomed from there.

SIEGEL: Now if I were to have walked into your house at the height of this medical activity there, describe what I would have seen. How was it set up?

Mr. LESTER: The few times that I've been able to get in my house, you open the kitchen door and all you can see is standing room only. You've got IV bags hanging from chandeliers, you got people laying on mattresses in the dining room and living room; couch full, recliners full of people. I've got rocking chairs outside, people lined up, so to speak.

BLOCK: And what kinds of treatment were people getting?

Mr. LESTER: Everything from IVs for dehydration to stitches, treatment for bee stings, for--especially small infants with bee stings.

BLOCK: What kinds of medical supplies did you have in the house? Where were you getting those?

Mr. LESTER: Virtually everything that you could think of except narcotics. Members of the fire department, members of the community that have relatives that are capable of getting medical supplies and getting them to us have made the calls, and I've been the--when I say I--my house has been the focal point for the medical supplies.

BLOCK: Now you're not too far from Hattiesburg, which is a pretty big city. Why couldn't these folks have gone to the hospital there?

Mr. LESTER: The hospital was under evacuation.

BLOCK: So if you hadn't been there, where would these patients have gone?

Mr. LESTER: Not a clue. Extreme desperation, I suppose.

BLOCK: Mr. Lester, do you still have patients there now?

Mr. LESTER: Yes, ma'am.

BLOCK: Who do you have?

Mr. LESTER: I don't know. I don't know who they are.

BLOCK: And do you know what they're being treated for?

Mr. LESTER: No, ma'am.

BLOCK: How many patients do you have now?

Mr. LESTER: Three, I think.

BLOCK: Did you imagine, as this hurricane was coming in, that this might be a scenario? Had you envisioned anything like this?

Mr. LESTER: Oh, no, ma'am. We're 60 miles off the coast. I did not expect any kind of--the devastation that we actually received.

BLOCK: Mr. Lester, let me ask you this: When the folks there came and said, `You have a house and you have a generator and we need it,' what was your reaction?

Mr. LESTER: `You know where my house is. Go.'

BLOCK: Just like that?

Mr. LESTER: Oh, yes, ma'am. The community's been good to me. You know, they needed help, so why can't I return a favor?

BLOCK: Mr. Lester, thanks so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Mr. LESTER: You're welcome, ma'am.

BLOCK: Dan Lester, speaking with us from his home in McLaurin, Mississippi, which has been serving as a makeshift health clinic after Hurricane Katrina.

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