Frogmore native returns to disaster to help

Published 12:19 am Sunday, September 2, 2007

When Frogmore native Dr. James Bragg returned to his West Bank home in New Orleans, his house wasn’t flooded. There was just a lot more sky.

“The chimney blew off,” Bragg said. “We had a hole in our roof.”

Bragg was one of the lucky ones. He still had a house.

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He and his wife had evacuated to his parents’ Frogmore house near Ferriday and enrolled his son in Cathedral School.

While his family stayed in the Miss-Lou, Bragg returned to New Orleans a week after Hurricane Katrina.

He joined a number of physicians going back to the Oschner Medical Center to help treat those left in the city.

“We saw pretty much anybody who walked through our door,” Bragg said. “They had everything from mosquito bites to colds and fevers to transplant patients who needed to be hooked up with their anti-rejection medicines.”

The clinic also took calls from out-of-state New Orleans evacuees trying to fill their prescriptions.

Outside the hospital, nothing was normal.

“When I got here after the storm, you didn’t have to look down the street to walk across it,” Bragg said. “No one was driving around.”

Even steps toward normalcy weren’t normal. One of the first stores to reopen in Bragg’s neighborhood was a Domino’s Pizza.

“That was the craziest thing,” he said. “You walked in and either got a pepperoni or cheese pizza. There were no large, medium or small choices, and you couldn’t pick your toppings.”

Today, the city’s recovery depends on where you go, he said.

“The Ninth Ward looks totally devastated,” he said. “The French Quarter is pretty much the same as it was before the hurricane. Uptown is looking real good. But the streetcars aren’t running, and some restaurants aren’t reopening. You can go to some parts of town and some of the houses aren’t even gutted yet.”

Bragg sees long-lasting changes in the hospital, too.

Since Charity Hospital, severely damaged by the storm, hasn’t reopened, Oschner and other medical centers are seeing more indigent patients, he said.

One frustration is caring for veterans, some of whom are required to go to veterans’ hospitals for treatment.

“Then, we call the veterans’ hospital in Alexandria, and they’re full,” he said. “There’s a lot of red tape and frustration.”

At home, Bragg’s roof is fixed, and his wife and son have moved back to New Orleans.

“We were very lucky,” he said.