The Perfect Storm

Hurricane Laura, the strongest storm to make landfall in Louisiana since 1856, cut a swathe of destruction through that state from which it will take years to recover fully. Some will never return to their homes.

One of those is Hazel Haines who, despite the near-perfect storm of Hurricane Laura, the COVID-19 pandemic and her own cancer diagnosis, considers herself fortunate as she charts a new course for her life in the weeks and months to come. She feels this way because someone was there for her at a moment’s notice.

Diagnosis and Dilemma
Haines lived her entire life in Lake Charles, La., a city where neon lights and showy casinos often obscure the deep-running, blue-collar sensibilities of its citizens. It’s a town of refinery and plant workers, offshore roughnecks and men and women who punch a clock much more often than the buttons of a slot machine.

Two months prior to the hurricane, Haines was hit with a storm of a different kind: a Stage-Two Lung Cancer diagnosis. Quickly, she was scheduled to have a right-sided lobectomy in Houston, just a few hours west of Lake Charles down Interstate 10. But the COVID-19 outbreak, which was spiking at that time in the Southeast Texas region, caused a cancelation. 

Her surgery was rescheduled but was cancelled once more as Laura spun toward the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, its ultimate landfall site still uncertain. While the governor urged evacuations, she and her husband, both on disability and physically and financially unable to relocate, could not leave. The situation became grimmer. Now Hurricane Laura’s track came into sharp focus: the bullseye was on Lake Charles.

Tough Decisions
With the storm bearing down, Haines’ daughter and her daughter’s fiancée came to pick up Haines and her husband. They had no plan for where to go. Haines had about $400 to her name when they got in the car, most of which was used for gas as the evacuees drove around looking for places to take shelter. 

Haines monitored Facebook and saw posts for hotels with vacancies for hurricane evacuees. She was turned away from a few and was told to seek refuge in a shelter. But she was afraid to go there due to COVID-19 fears and her and her husband’s disabilities. 

She saw another post on Facebook for hotels in New Orleans, which appeared to be just clear of the worst of the storm. She arrived at the Sheraton Brook Hollow hotel and was able to get into one of the last four remaining hotel rooms. Finally clear of immediate danger, they rode out the storm in relative safety. 

Once Hurricane Laura had passed, Haines asked her husband to drive her to Houston so she could have her procedure. She was nearing the point where her cancer would become inoperable, and therefore, terminal. But Houston and the hope of health seemed a million miles away.

A Knight for the Lady 
During her first days in the hotel, Haines met paramedic Adrian Monroe for a checkup in the lobby. Adrian is from the Mt. Hope Fire Department in West Virginia, a network partner of American Medical Response, deployed in Louisiana to support relief efforts in the wake of Laura. 

Haines told Monroe her story: The cancer diagnosis, the COVID and hurricane cancellations, the evacuation from Lake Charles, her precarious domestic situation, and how Laura just made things worse. All of the medical offices and hospitals in her hometown were either destroyed or evacuated, so she couldn’t get her information transferred to any hospitals in Houston and she didn’t know how to handle her situation. 

Monroe quickly took action. A man of faith, he started by contacting his personal friends, asking for prayers for Haines. In doing so, he was able to raise $500, which he turned into a gift card and presented to Haines. This would be enough to pay for the gas to get to Houston in her daughter's car. 

Next, Monroe spoke with the Sheraton Brook Hollow general manager. Sheraton has facilities in Houston and the GM obtained a minimum of 30 nights for free for Haines, with a possible extension to 60 days, so that she could have her procedure and a place to rest. Monroe also worked with the Red Cross to help her get her prescriptions locally and find a primary-care provider in New Orleans. 

After many phone calls, Monroe secured an appointment for Haines in a Houston hospital, in hopes of having her surgery within a week. Speaking with heartfelt sincerity, Haines said of Monroe, “He’s my knight in shining armor, he’s been the greatest and probably saved my life.” 

Haines life has been forever changed. Her home is gone, and she won’t be returning to Lake Charles anytime soon, if at all. Yet, there is hope. There is surgery and recovery. There are steps that began with a paramedic in a hotel lobby and will continue forward from there to face the next challenge with a smile. 

For Monroe, he was just happy he could help. He will continue to check in on Haines to make sure she doesn’t face that future alone. "I find it hard to be indifferent in situations like this,” he said. "For that one smile, it's worth it."

Thank you to the men and women of the Mt. Hope Fire Department who were part of our network provider team responding to Hurricane Laura. And a special thanks to Mt. Hope paramedic Adrian Monroe who went above and beyond. 

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