He treated the injured in the hours after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Six months later, the medical director for the drilling rig talked exclusively to FOX 8.
April 20, 2010 was a night from hell for the 126-member crew on board the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, 41-miles off Louisiana’s coast.
Michael Kotler, M.D. said he’ll never forget it. “I got a call from medical services in Houston,” said Kotler. He explained, “a very brief call saying there was a major incident that occurred on the Horizon.”
The medical director for Transocean North America, the company which owned the rig, Kotler said he wasn’t sure what had happened. He said, “I had never gotten a call like that before.” He knew whatever it was, it was serious.
That was the beginning of what was about to be a very tense and emotional few days for Kotler and his medical team.
An explosion and fire on the rig that night claimed 11 lives. Kotler said 17 people had severe enough injuries they had to be air-lifted from the rig. “The most significant person had some burns and broken bones, and actually this was a senior level person with Transocean, who in my opinion, is a hero… because he was in a position to really evacuate and went back to help some other people, and there was another explosion and then he got caught,” said Kotler.
98 crew members managed to escape the horror unfolding in the gulf. According to Kotler, “some were in the water. A few jumped… a few were in the…they left in rescue pods.” Those survivors would soon be in Kotler’s care so he and his staff set up a field hospital inside a Kenner hotel. Kotler said, “we had a large room where we triaged the patients. Then we had four hotel rooms that were converted into private…each one a private exam room so that we could assign a doctor and a nurse to each room and be able to move the patients through quickly.”
Most of the injuries they saw were minor. Kotler said it was the psychological issues and the post traumatic stress that clearly was taking a toll on the survivors. Kotler said, “it was very easy to see that people had been through a major, life-changing incident.” He said it was very emotional and difficult because many of the survivors prior to the explosion were patients at Kotler’s industrial medical clinic in Harahan.
Six months after the explosion, Kotler and a team of medical professionals are now running an urgent care clinic in Venice for the nearly 2,000 workers still working the response effort.
Kotler’s team, more specialized when it comes to industry needs, replaced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Hospitals’ staff. The local medical team is in Venice seven days a week. They have three exam rooms and a triage center.
If a worker needs a higher level of care, they stabilize them in Venice and EMS services are ready to transport. The only medical facility in Plaquemines Parish is 30 miles away, in Port Sulphur.
“I’ve been here since the third day of the spill,” said BP contractor, James France, who was treated for a staph infection at the Venice clinic. Another patient was site safety manager, Damon Lacombe. Lacombe said, “the infection could have spread to my heart.. possibly died… that’s what would have happened, but them being on site and jumping on it with antibiotics i mean it cleared up within two days.”
Logistics section chief Mac McEntire said, “one of the things we try to prevent with our health is trying to make sure that no one thing like a flu bug or something doesn’t go through the workforce, because it can happen quickly.”
Although BP capped the gushing oil well in July, the company’s former Plaquemines Parish branch director Fred Lemond said cleanup crews are still on beaches. He said they’re waiting on scientists to give them directions on how to handle oiled marshland. Lemond said, “we’ve got some current testing that’s going on. Some of the recommendations may be for gentle flushing.. some may be nothing at all so nature can reclaim it.”
Despite this environmental disaster, the largest in U.S. history, there are some signs of recovery at Venice Marina six months after the spill..
Some sport fishermen had reeled in quite a catch. Not one, but two huge yellowfin tuna, one that weighed in at nearly 205 pounds.
“The reality is the response and restoration along the Gulf Coast isn’t over, and the shadow of what was the Deepwater Horizon resonates daily for Michael Kotler, M.D. He said, “we will be here until they tell us they don’t need us anymore.”
Kotler said he’s keeping records at the facilities he’s responsible for so if anyone would want to go back and study what if anything people may have been exposed to, that information could be tracked. Many experts have said that is something that was not taken into consideration after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.