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Doctor braves Harvey flooding in canoe to perform teen’s surgery

WEBSTER, Texas — Despite the fact that his own home was flooding because of Hurricane Harvey, a Houston area doctor was so determined to perform emergency surgery on a 16-year-old boy that he used whatever means necessary to reach the hospital — even if that meant using a canoe and walking through waist-high floodwater.

Dr. Stephen Kimmel, a general pediatric surgeon at Clear Lake Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas, rushed out of his home on Saturday morning when he received a call about Jacob Terrazas, who faced permanent damage if the surgery wasn’t performed immediately.

During a Wednesday appearance with Jacob on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” Kimmel said he headed out in his car, but had to turn back because of the flooding. But that was just the beginning of his brave journey.

The hospital reached out to the local volunteer fire department to aid Kimmel. “So we ran through the flooded streets and it was pretty windy and rainy,” he said.

“We went by canoe and then by (a firefighter’s) pickup truck and by canoe again,” Kimmel told Burnett. “And I felt that these guys knew what they were doing, so I didn’t worry about myself at all the whole time.”

Kimmel ultimately reached the hospital after walking the last mile in waist-high water.

He says what is usually a 10-15 minute trip took about an hour, but that the effort was warranted. “Somebody had to take care of this young man, and so I thought, well if I can do it, I certainly should,” he said. “He was on the way to our institution and I’m glad I was able to make it.”

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Jacob, who admitted he was “really scared,” and his family also had their own harrowing journey to the hospital as the paramedic’s truck he was in had to stop because of flooding.

“We had to get out and I was kind of lost, but tired,” he said. “One of the paramedics carried me to the side of the highway and after that we waited for a little bit. It was raining, my mom, my sisters they were just standing there wet. I was getting wet, cold. We were all cold. And we waited for a truck to get here and we got in the truck and left the paramedics, and after that we went to the fire department, I think, and we waited for a big truck to get there and once the truck got there, we all went in there.”

When Jacob finally arrived at the hospital, he said he didn’t even realize Kimmel was his doctor because he had just gotten there himself and wasn’t in typical medical attire.

“It was kind of weird because I got there and I didn’t know who was the doctor because I thought he was just like some, I don’t know, just some dude,” he said. “That’s what my mom thought, too. And once he told me I was like ‘oh, Ok.”

Jacob said he’s “thankful” for Kimmel performing the surgery and that he is “relieved from the pain” and “I’m feeling way much better.”

Kimmel responded by saying, “It’s really a privilege to be able to take care of pediatric surgical patients and, you know, it’s a very fulfilling day I have every day. It’s great to take care of kids and see them get better.”

The doctor also added that the Coast Guard was able to get his family out of their home safely and that the water has receded and the home is salvageable. But Kimmel said, “It’s certainly not the most important thing. I was just happy to see them.”