DENHAM SPRINGS – “See ya buddy. Take your medicine,” was the farewell Dr. Thiravat Choojitarom gave his young patient last week.
“Dr. Choo,” as he is commonly called, smiled both for his patient and to be back “home” on Veterans Boulevard with Primary Care of Denham Springs, a pediatric clinic with Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group.
“Today is a great day,” he said. “It’s such a relief to be back.”
Primary Care of Denham Springs is the last of three Our Lady of the Lake Physician Group clinics to move back to their original locations after August’s flooding.
While their building at 311 Veterans Blvd. was under repair, Choojitarom, his fellow doctors and staff worked at the Lake-Livingston clinic, but his patients were always on his mind.
The clinic's patient population was the heaviest hit by flooding in Denham Springs, with more than 90 percent of area homes suffering flood damage.
“We’re excited for our team members, our patients and the community,” said Chris Glover, operations director for the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System.
“Our stories aren’t unique. Once we were devastated, people moved out, but determination made the move back in possible,” she said, having lost her own home to floodwaters.
The clinic lost $100,000 in prescription medicines and vaccines from two refrigerators, Choojitarom said.
After the flood, Glover said the OLOL operations teams sent buses to its clinics to begin treating patients in the parking lots.
Who had insurance and who did not was never considered, she said. “We needed to treat patients.”
“Later we will have a bigger event, a block party,” Choojitarom said. “Stuff is still being delivered. It is a work in progress.”
When the clinic opened April 10, the work in progress hosted a tour for Mayor Gerard Landry, Police Chief Shannon Womack and the media.
Choojitarom was called away occasionally during the tour to go “re-set.” Not re-set a bone, but re-set “some technology,” on a computer, he said, his new role on the first day of operation.
His own office is mostly bare, with stacks of boxes, but some of his examining rooms boast dinosaur and ocean themes – octopus and all.
Returning with Choojitarom are Dr. Karim Suazo-Flores, Dr. Shana Hart and certified pediatric nurse practitioner Laura Hollis.
The clinic offers offices for five doctors to go with 19 examining rooms, a triage room and breastfeeding room.
Choojitarom recalled waking up in his Watson home that fateful Friday morning in August with water coming up his driveway.
He called the clinic “to tell them I can’t make it to work and in no time the water got into the garage.”
His home was elevated and spared the floodwater, but for two days, “We were on an island, nothing in or out,” he said.
That Tuesday, when he was able to get out, the New Orleans survivor of Hurricane Katrina went to Watson area shelters to help.
While his specialty is pediatrics, Choojitarom said he did his share of internal medicine treatment.
“Thank God you’re here,” was the welcome he received, he said.
“A lot of people had cuts, abrasions, we were busy with wound care and getting as many supplies as we could,” he said. “My partner, Dr. Hart, handles internal medicine, so I could rely on her for help. We treated quite a bit of wound infections.”
“Everyone had to pull together; everyone had to carry the weight,” Glover added.
“When the next disaster strikes the area, Mississippi or Arkansas, we will be surprised at how many people will help, even if it’s just a pot of jambalaya,” Landry said.
The clinic site held some memories for the police chief. Womack recalled an officer parked his unit in the median of Veterans Boulevard almost in front of the clinic on “higher ground.”
It wasn’t and the police unit was flooded, Womack said.