Last Friday, before the formal Jennie Sealy Dedication Ceremony, I had the opportunity to join Dr. Callender, Dr. Jacobs and Ms. Sadro in welcoming to a luncheon the many dignitaries and benefactors who joined us on the Galveston campus. From state representatives to current and former University of Texas System Chancellors, from members of the UT System Board of Regents members to the Sealy & Smith Foundation Board and the Moody Foundation Board, a large and distinguished group of individuals joined in the day’s celebrations.
That momentous day, as I spoke in front of the group and recounted to them our journey, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in our people. So many of you have stood by UTMB throughout its recovery, renewal and growth after Hurricane Ike. I shared in the great feelings success we all feel about opening the doors of our beautiful new hospital to our patients and their guests on April 9. The Jennie Sealy Hospital represents the effort of so many people who put in thousands of hours of work, developing plans and working to garner the necessary support to begin construction.
It was a year and a day before I began working at UTMB that Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island. I remember watching the evening news before the storm struck. The forecast was grim. Just before midnight on Friday, September 12, 2008, I received a message from Dr. David Marshall, who was my friend and UTMB’s Chief Operating Officer at the time.
“I am headed to bed for the night. Pray for us.”
I went to bed that night with David’s message on my mind. I thought about the day prior, when UTMB staff had safely evacuated its patients – 471 patients to be exact. Then, they worked to secure the campus, even as storm surge approached. By the time I received David’s message, essential staff were waiting to ride out the storm. Hurricane Ike’s arrival was only hours away.
At 2 a.m., September 13, the eye of the storm passed over UTMB. Although Ike was considered only a Category 2 storm, its size made it one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent U.S. history (it was 70% larger than an average hurricane). In the days that followed, I watched the news with grave concern. Aerial footage showed places on Galveston Island where flood waters had reached nearly 20 feet. Interstate 45 was littered by boats. Homes had been washed entirely off their foundation. I couldn’t believe the magnitude of the devastation.
Nearly a month later, on October 7, I watched a video posted to UTMB’s website of Dr. Callender’s first Town Hall meeting after the storm. He calmly reassured the community that UTMB would be rebuilt, and it would emerge stronger than before. I am certain, at the time, people appreciated the words but had some doubts about whether or not this would truly happen. By then, people across the state were already seriously questioning whether or not UTMB should be rebuilt on the island.
But despite the storm’s damage and all of the naysayers who said UTMB should be closed forever, UTMB’s employees and students courageously marched on, wearing a smile as they helped clean up the campus. The old motto from the Great Storm of 1900 was adopted and prevailed: “UTMB stops for no storm.”
My first day as an employee at UTMB, I remember standing in the grassy area between John Sealy Hospital and the Administration Building to watch the UTMB flag being raised during the Hurricane Ike Commemoration Ceremony. It was an emotional and triumphant day for all of the brave and tenacious students, employees, and faculty who remained so passionately dedicated to rebuilding UTMB on Galveston Island.
John Sealy Hospital had been reopened only nine months ago at the time. One day at noon, I visited the MICU. The area was bustling with activity, and a nurse hurried out of the break room, chewing her last bite of lunch. I said to her, “You all are really busy today.”
Her response was not what I expected: “Yes, isn’t it wonderful that we have our patients back?”
Meanwhile, the pharmacy was still functioning but now out of a patient unit. The usual technology to support its work was absent—there was no robot, no medication carousel, nothing. Just determined pharmacists and technicians who filled hundreds of prescriptions a day with the same degree of accuracy as they had before. The kitchen still occupied a large tent on the top level of the Plaza Garage. Surgical instruments took a 120-mile round trip ride to Sugar Land each day to be sterilized.
Despite these challenges, everyone continued forward with hope and faith, and UTMB quickly moved from recovery into a new era, focused on progress and growth. Here we are today, four years after breaking ground on this hospital. Standing in Jennie Sealy Hospital feels nothing short of a miracle!
I also told these tremendous supporters of UTMB that we had designed our new hospital, first and foremost, with the patient in mind. We had involved nurses, physicians and staff in every step of the design process to ensure the facility would support patient care delivery. We involved students, residents and program leaders in our plans to assure the building would adequately support UTMB’s educational mission, and we identified space to support clinical research.
I told them about how much we had benefited by engaging our patients and the community in the design process. Their feedback added to—and even sometimes challenged—what we had envisioned from an administrative perspective. I told them about the separate zones in the patient rooms for clinical staff, the patient and their family, as well as the wonderful amenities we included thanks to their suggestions, like the specific model of sofa bed and a small refrigerator.
While Jennie Sealy Hospital is UTMB’s gift to the community, it would not have been possible without so many people who stepped forward to help. Students traveled to Austin to talk with legislators about UTMB’s importance. Our staff, alumni and community members advocated for UTMB at public hearings. Our elected officials listened to and championed our cause. The UT System believed in the importance of UTMB’s role in patient care and educating medical professionals in the state. So many people contributed to UTMB’s renewal and growth.
It was an honor to formally thank the Sealy & Smith Foundation, who made an extraordinary and visionary lead gift, signaling to the State of Texas their strong commitment to rebuilding UTMB and assuring excellent care on Galveston Island. It was an honor to thank the Moody Foundation, who are dedicated to supporting our work in managing complex patients and assuring that we have state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and programs to support that care.
I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the contributions so many of you, UTMB’s own employees and faculty, who together donated over $11 million to UTMB’s Family Campaign. Your contributions represent how passionately you care about and believe in UTMB. These combined contributions will help thousands of patients and families for many years to come.
There is a quote that I believe captures the essence of what each of you has helped UTMB accomplish:
“It’s impossible,” said pride.
“It’s risky,” said experience.
“It’s pointless,” said reason.
“Give it a try,” whispered the heart.
Thanks to each one of you here today who listened to the whispers of your heart.