Many of our readers are familiar with Stephen Kimmel, MD, a pediatric surgeon at HCA Healthcare’s Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, and his Hurricane Harvey experience. What you don’t know is the effect the historic storm had on Dr. Kimmel and his family.
At 10 pm on Aug. 26, 2017, Kimmel received a phone call at home in Dickinson about a teen who desperately needed surgery. Hurricane Harvey was at full strength outside, unleashing torrential rain on a rapidly-flooding Houston and high winds that were causing power outages throughout the area. Kimmel, however, didn’t think twice – he would get to the hospital. After driving his car as far as he could, he ran through floodwaters, caught a ride in a passing fire truck, paddled a canoe, and slogged through waist-high water again before he made it to Clear Lake Regional in time to perform a successful surgery.
Later that night, marooned at the hospital, Kimmel called his wife, Arlyn, at home. There was no answer. Exhausted, Kimmel fell asleep on the couch in his office.
The next morning, he tried calling home again. This time, his wife answered. She and the couple’s two children, now ages 14 and 10, were huddled together on the second floor of the house while floodwaters seeped into the ground floor. Kimmel called the Coast Guard, which sent a boat to the house to get his family and were later forced to leave them at a military drop-off point.
“At that point, Arlyn called me and said, ‘Now what?’ I had no way to reach them. I called around, and Clear Lake’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Byrne had a big truck and offered to drive me to where they were in League City,” Kimmel said.
When the family made it back to the hospital, someone produced a large blow-up mattress. Kimmel was barely able to get it inflated before the family collapsed on the floor and couch in his office, exhausted.
Monday morning, the family decided to take HCA up on its offer of a hotel room. On the way there, they stopped at a local pizza joint that was giving away food. Finally, dry, fed, and in proper beds, the family could relax a little.
When the storm was over, the Kimmels had two flooded cars and several feet of standing water in their house. They borrowed cars from friends and colleagues – Kimmel’s secretary gave him the keys to her son’s car – and, after a week, moved into a rental house. Kimmel later decided to start demolishing the ground floor of his house.
“Right away, it became clear that I had no idea what I was doing,” he laughed. “But people came out and helped. Thirty or 40 people showed up to work on my house. It was amazing.”
In November, a mere three months after Harvey, the Kimmels moved back into their home.
“All in all, we were lucky,” Kimmel said. “We got a lot of support from the hospital and HCA, the kids were pretty calm about things, our house wasn’t totally destroyed, and we found out just how willing people are to help. When I left that night for the hospital, I wasn’t worried about my family. My wife’s a pretty tough cookie.”
Dr. Kimmel recently reunited for the first time with good Samaritan Kevin Mikulan, who helped him canoe toward the hospital during Hurricane Harvey. Both were presented with a plaque from Clear Lake Regional Medical Center for their heroic actions under extraordinary circumstances.
HCA 50th Anniversary
In 1968, HCA Healthcare was conceived by two physicians and an accomplished business leader — Dr. Thomas Frist Sr., Dr. Thomas Frist Jr., and Jack Massey. This year, HCA celebrates its golden anniversary and the culture of caring established by our three founders 50 years ago. To help us celebrate our 50th year, we’ll share stories here that reflect HCA’s mission – above all else, the care and improvement of human life – and our pledge to improve life and make history for the next 50 years and beyond.