Steamboat nurses take their skills to Louisiana

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There will come a day when Alicia Morton will explain to her 5-year-old twins why their mommy had to leave Steamboat Springs so suddenly last week.

They aren't yet old enough to understand why Morton's nursing skills are more needed in Louisiana now than her maternal skills are needed here.

"Someday I'll explain to them the importance of this," Morton said Saturday afternoon from a hospital in Baton Rouge, La., where she and six other Yampa Valley Medical Center nurses spent the day helping Hurricane Katrina refugees.

One day after working at a makeshift hospital in a Louisiana State University field house, Morton and her Steamboat peers moved to an actual hospital in the state capital, where military helicopters ferried in load after load of evacuees from New Orleans.

"We're pretty much going wherever we're needed," she said. "We're basically trying to relieve many of the nurses that have been here."

Many of the patients they see suffer from pre-existing conditions that have gone untreated since the hurricane and a massive storm surge overwhelmed New Orleans.

"Some of these people's stories are absolutely horrific," Morton said. She's heard many of them during the past three days, including one from a woman who doesn't know the fate of 15 family members and one about a man who suffered a major stroke because doctors couldn't get him medicine fast enough, even after he complained about chest pains.

Volunteers from across the country, Baton Rouge residents and local businesses have been incredibly supportive and generous, Morton said. But despite the gains made Saturday, she knows there are weeks, months and years of hardship ahead for the countless people affected by the hurricane and its aftermath.

"This is not going away anytime soon," she said. "These hospitals are just overflowing with patients. These people don't have anywhere to go.

"It's like the tsunami. Those people are still suffering, and these people will, too."

The group of nurses still plan to return home Monday. Morton knows their decision to head to the Gulf Coast was the right one.

"We're a small group, but we come with a wide range of experience," she said. "Our hearts are in it 100 percent. You just have to go for it."

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