Keesler hospital takes big step forward

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
  • Air Force Print News
Officials here celebrated a milestone Aug. 29 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the base's medical center, marking the transformation of the facility from an outpatient clinic to a fully functional hospital.

Hurricane Katrina struck only two months after Brig. Gen. (Dr.) James J. Dougherty took the reins as commander of the 81st Medical Group. He said it has been a steady effort getting the hospital in shape.

"It has been a process of gradual recovery," he said. "It's been my honor and privilege to be here during this period."

The ceremony was also attended by Surgeon General of the Air Force Lt. Gen. (Dr.) James G. Roudebush. He said the recovery effort sends an important message across the world about the strength of the American spirit and determination in times of crisis.

"(Our adversaries) at times think the American will is not sufficient to withstand these sorts of adverse events," he said. "This shows that this is not the case. There is not an ounce of 'give-up' anywhere in this community, Air Force or nation."

The efforts of the people at Keesler have been an inspiration for him, General Roudebush said, and shows why it is important for Airmen to be ready for any scenario at any time.

Hurricane Katrina caused more than $100 million of damage to the hospital and knocked out the electricity in the building. One of the hospital's most noteworthy patients Aug. 29, 2005, attended this week's ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Last year, while Senior Airman Aaron Post was caring for his then 2-year-old daughter, Austin, his wife, Stephanie, gave birth to their daughter, Sage Madison, at the medical center. With no power to light the facility, doctors were forced to deliver the baby by cesarean section, lighted only by oversized flashlights.

Stephanie is reminded of the day every time she looks at her healthy daughter.

"The doctors were very nice," she said. "I appreciate everything they went through and I realize how lucky I was in some ways that day."

General Dougherty said the rebuilding of the hospital has been like building a hospital from the floor up.

"It has been a very challenging project," he said. "I'm so glad (I) was here, because it has been so fulfilling."