Doctor Canoes to Emergency Surgery
One Year After He Was Canoed Through Harvey Flood Waters, Dr. Stephen Kimmel Reunites with Good Samaritan Kevin Mikulan Whose Heroism Helped Ailing Teen
It’s been one year since pediatric surgeon Dr. Stephen Kimmel was rescued from his own Harvey flooded home and canoed by first responders to HCA-affiliated Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in time to perform surgery on an ailing teenage boy.
In recognition of the Harvey anniversary, Dr. Kimmel reunited for the first time with good Samaritan Kevin Mikulan, who helped canoe him toward the hospital. Dr. Kimmel ultimately reached the hospital after walking the last mile in waist-high water.
Because of their efforts, Dr. Kimmel was able to reach Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in time to perform surgery on a teenager who faced permanent damage if the surgery wasn't performed immediately.
The Kimmel Family Gives and Receives
Many are familiar with Dr. Stephen Kimmel’s Hurricane Harvey experience. At 10 pm on Aug. 26, 2017, Kimmel received a phone call at home in Dickinson about a child 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 Clear Lake Regional 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 rising water again before he made it to the hospital in time to perform a successful surgery.
Later that night, marooned at the hospital, Kimmel called his wife, Arlyn, at home. The Kimmels owned a three-story house with a guest room, utility room, and garage on the first floor. The second and third floors were where the family spent their time. There was no answer at home. 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, Madeleine, now 14, and Christopher, now 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 then were forced to leave them at a military drop-off point on Interstate 45.
"At that point, Arlyn called me and said, 'Now what?' I had no way to reach them. I called around, and our 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 Angelo’s Pizza, which 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. Arlyn took the children to Dallas for an ice hockey tournament Christopher was playing in, and Kimmel 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, the Kimmels moved back into their home, with their new cars. Arlyn replaced her beloved Mercedes with a 2018 F150 truck ("It’s red, with red leather upholstery. It’s pretty swanky!" commented Kimmel) and he replaced his car with a newer model.
"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!"