A Police Officer’s Katrina Survival Story

You wouldn’t know it by looking at him today, but 10 years ago Kevin Thomas was fighting for his life in a West Jefferson Medical Center operating room. It was the day after Katrina devastated New Orleans and Thomas, a New Orleans police officer, was patrolling in Algiers when a looter shot him in the head with a.45 Magnum. He was rushed to West Jefferson Medical Center. Fortunately, Neurosurgeon John Steck of Culicchia Neurological Clinic was on call and available to extract the bullet in an O.R. that was on emergency backup power. No air conditioning. No water. But that wasn’t the worst part. kevin thomasThe bullet blew off part of Thomas’ left ear and lodged in his brain. Normally in such cases, a CAT scan is performed so the surgeon can see what’s inside the patient’s brain, but the 100+ degree heat had shut down the CAT scan machinery. Dr. Steck had to rely on only an X-ray to guide him through brain surgery. In a two- hour operation under extreme conditions, Dr. Steck performed a craniotomy, removing part of Thomas’s skull, to extract the bullet and bone fragments from his brain.

“The day after surgery Mr. Thomas opened his eyes and it was clear that his intellect and higher reasoning were intact,” Dr. Steck said. “The bullet pierced the left frontal lobe of his brain – the area that governs speech. He was very fortunate that his speech and language skills have not been affected.” Thomas remained in the hospital for a week and was then transported to Dallas, where doctors reattached his left ear. It’s a miracle Kevin Thomas is alive today. He is able to walk and talk with ease. Ten years later, Thomas is doing very well. He is unable to work due to seizures and headaches, which he is managing with a team of doctors. “He’s my hero,” he says of Dr. Steck. “I wouldn’t be here today without him. Things happen for a reason and there was a reason that he happened to be on call at the hospital when I came in that day. He’s one of the best neurosurgeons around. I feel very blessed.”

 

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