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Francisco Ramirez

Years from now, when Francisco Ramirez thinks about Hurricane Harvey, he’ll remember more than deep water. He’ll remember a surgeon with a deep commitment to saving lives.

Amid storm preparations, Francisco had a four-wheeler accident. Unable to get to a hospital because of high water, a neighbor took him to the nearest fire station. It was a military dump truck that finally got Francisco to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital where doctors recognized symptoms consistent with a brain injury. Scans revealed a subdural hematoma. As a Level III trauma center, LBJ does not do neurosurgery. Under normal conditions, he would be transferred to a Level I trauma center. But these were not normal conditions.

Fortunately, Dr. Erik Askenasy, a general and colorectal surgeon who was once interested in neurosurgery, was part of LBJ’s ride-out team. A man of great faith, he knew something must be done. Francisco’s condition was getting worse. Dr. Askenasy and a willing OR crew got creative, co-opting tools from other delicate surgeries.

Dr. Askenasy told Francisco’s family, “I’ll do anything I can to save your dad. Pray for me while I do it.” The surgery started at midnight and lasted two hours; a fist-sized blood clot was successfully removed. The surgical staff later told Jocelyn, Francisco’s daughter, “The doctor was so confident, we felt positive. Once surgery started, it felt natural.”

After surgery, a break in the weather allowed a helicopter to take Francisco to a Level I trauma hospital. He left LBJ wearing a protective helmet with his skull flap sewed into his abdomen to stay healthy. Today, though he still has a few balance issues, Francisco is back at work as a residential air-conditioner installer.

Jocelyn and her family don’t look far to identify Harvey heroes. “Dr. Askenasy and his team are our heroes. If not for them, my dad wouldn’t be here.”

Dr. Askenasy’s willingness to take a chance, and Francisco’s determination to get back to normal, have seen him through. The family was left with just one problem: How do you say thank you to people who saved your father’s life? They bought a Pappasito’s gift card for the team. Dr. Askenasy accepted the gift with one caveat — the Ramirez family must join them for dinner. It was quite a celebration.