Loss and gain for Katrina evacuees

By Ed Brock

The road away from devastation in New Orleans has led Andre and Stella Haydel to loss and gain.

They lost a daughter during the delivery at Henry Medical Center last Friday and will bury little Fergie Gabriella at St. James The Apostle Catholic Church in McDonough this morning. But her twin sister Gigi Gabriella survived the birth and is doing well.

They lost all they had in life in one of America's most deadly storms, but hope to gain a new one in Henry and Clayton counties.

And like so many other stories, it all began with a picture on a television screen. It was a picture of Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive storm in recent American history.

"Saturday morning I really decided to leave, when it became a Category 4," said 43-year-old Andre Haydel. "When the picture came on with the perfect center (of the storm) – That's when you know to leave."

So they left, the Haydels, Stella Haydel's mother and two sisters and the couple's unborn twin girls.

Stella Haydel, 38, was eight months pregnant.

"We all left and went straight up to Arkansas," Andre Haydel said.

In Arkansas, in a little town called El Dorado, awaited a law school colleague of Andre Haydel with a five-bedroom house. But like so many others, the Haydels only packed enough clothes for a three-day trip.

"This shirt is borrowed," Andre Haydel said on Tuesday near his new home in Stockbridge. "These pants are from the Salvation Army."

Over the next few days they spent more time watching television than sleeping.

"You can't sleep when you're watching your home wash away," Haydel said.

CNN reporters stood on the Interstate 610 bridge near the Haydel's home in Gentilly to film the floods that swept through the city in the days after Katrina thundered ashore. Haydel still has no idea about the condition of that home, though he said it did stand on a ridge.

"Hopefully that ridge was high enough," Haydel said.

After a few days it became apparent that they weren't going back to that house any time soon, so they decided to go to Atlanta where Stella Haydel's brother lived.

"Since she was eight months pregnant she wanted to be near some family," Haydel said.

At his brother-in-laws house in Riverdale, things grew crowded with 11 people under one roof. So Haydel decided to rent the apartment in Stockbridge where they officially took residence on Monday. Haydel was a private practice attorney in New Orleans, and all those evacuees the rest of the nation saw on television were his clients.

"I pretty much knew, even though I didn't want to admit it, we were here to stay," Haydel said. "Now I have to find new avenues."

So last Thursday Haydel was going about the business of finding employment in the area until he can register with the Georgia bar, a process that may take until November. Then they went to see a specialist for Stella Haydel and everything changed.

"It was at the specialist that they had trouble locating a heartbeat (for the twins)," Haydel said. "So we went straight to the hospital."

On Friday their doctor decided to perform a C-section to rescue the babies. Gigi survived, but Fergie did not.

The sudden evacuation had nothing to do with the twins' premature birth, Haydel said.

"Things are the way they are. It's nature," Haydel said.

Stella Haydel has been discharged, but Gigi remains at Henry Medical Center for a few more tests. The nurses and staff of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit have adopted mother and baby, said Nurse Manager Sandi McKay. McKay said they knew the Haydel's don't have much right now.

"We actually went out to Wal-Mart and shopped," McKay said. "We're not going to send a baby home with nothing."

The hospital even provided a special car seat for premature babies that will carry Gigi home.

Haydel spent much of the day Tuesday at a job fair for Katrina victims and he's hoping to develop some good leads. Along with being an attorney, Haydel has experience in financial services, brokerage and life insurance. Haydel can be reached at (504) 481-0074.

He'll take whatever he can get right now, but he wants to get back into the law as soon as he can.

As for fatherhood, Haydel said he's doing fine. And Gigi, who weighed four pounds and 10 ounces at birth, is starting her new life on this planet with gusto.

"She's healthy, alive and kicking," Haydel said.