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'I remember telling my sister, just let me die' | Amputee lost her other leg at Independence warehouse

Woman who lost leg to diabetes ended up in nursing home warehouse and things got even worse from there.

NEW ORLEANS — Lisa Renard worked with kids most of her adult life, first as a New Orleans school teacher, then as the director of a day-care center in the 7th Ward. To her nieces and nephews, she is their beloved Nanny Lisa.

“I helped raise my sister's kids, cause I didn't have any,” Renard said.

Renard took a medical leave from her day-care center, Fun For Life Learning Center, in the summer of 2020 due to complications from diabetes.

Those complications ultimately led to the amputation of her right leg below the knee.

She had already lost one leg

Determined to return to work, Renard was fitted for a prosthetic leg. She was undergoing rehabilitation at the West Jefferson Health Care Center when Hurricane Ida took aim at Southeast Louisiana.

Renard said she and other residents were evacuated with little warning. She also had no way of knowing that the next four days inside a poorly equipped and overcrowded warehouse would descend into chaos and, for her, a life-or-death ordeal. 

“The day of us moving, I wasn't even asked if I wanted to call family or nothing,” she said.

Along with 842 other patients from seven nursing homes and rehab centers, Renard was brought to a former industrial warehouse in Independence, La. 

Bob Dean Jr., owner of the nursing facilities, also owns the warehouse. His plans to move patients there had been approved by the state Department of Health.

Patients wary about warehouse conditions

Even before Ida made landfall, residents had concerns. The warehouse offered no privacy. Portable toilets lined the walls. Patients were placed on mattresses crowded side-by-side on the floor.

To the wheelchair-bound Lisa Renard, those patients were the lucky ones.

“When they rolled me in and saw they had those little cushions on the floor, I knew I couldn't lay down,” she said.

Confined to her wheelchair, pressed against a wall, Renard saw distress all around her. Patients began crying out for help. Stuck in place for four days, Renard suffered silently through her own pain and indignity.

Stuck in wheelchair, she soiled herself for days

“I couldn't get to the bathroom,” she said, breaking down in tears.  “So that meant I just had to stay in my wheelchair and use the bathroom on myself.”

As the storm roared outside, the shelter began to flood. A bad situation got worse.

“When rain started coming, we had to move, too. Everybody had to move to one part on the other side of the warehouse,” Renard said.

Nurses and other staff members said they were forced to move patients from the flooded part of the warehouse to sections that were already jam-packed.

Natalie Henderson, a staff nurse, was one of the employees who had to try to find additional space.

“They kept rolling in more residents. I'm like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Henderson recalled. “We had to keep pushing the patients tighter and tighter to fit everyone in.”

After the storm, food and drinking water began to run short.

“They were getting hungry. They were getting thirsty. And you weren't able to continue to get your medicine,” Renard said.

Then, in the hours after the storm died down, Renard began suffering her own personal emergency.

Renard knew she had a problem

“I complained and told them something was wrong with my leg. I had pain. But nothing was done,” she said.

As a diabetic, she knew all the symptoms.

“The way I knew I was in trouble because I smelled decaying flesh. My leg had an odor, it was really bad,” she said.

Three days after the storm hit, prompted by 9-1-1 calls, state health officials returned to the warehouse for what amounted to a mass rescue.

Renard's family grew alarmed, including her cousin, New Orleans Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell.

“We all thought that where she was in a safe place and they would take care of her,” Morrell said.

It took about 48 hours to move all the patients from the warehouse.

Thank the Lord

Renard knew she was having a medical crisis, but she didn't know where she was going, or if anyone would take care of her. But she was able to tell rescuers one critical piece of information.

“I gave them my sister's name. Thank the Lord I gave them my sister's name,” she recalled through tears.

Renard said her ride in an ambulance van is a blur. All she can recall is being wheeled into a mass evacuation site in Baton Rouge.

“All I remember was when I got to LSU, they said, ‘We're going to clean you up.’ And I laid down on like a gurney. And when I laid on that gurney, I remember nothing else.”

When Renard woke up, she was in a surgical recovery room at Baton Rouge General Hospital. She was grateful to be alive but shocked when she was told about her condition.

'Just let me die'

“I didn't know because I was out of it. I didn't know until I woke up after they had performed the surgery,” she said. “They took my leg off.”

“It was a nightmare. It was. I remember telling my sister, just let me die.”

She almost did die. Her sister didn't tell her until weeks later.

“My sister told me that I almost died. I didn't know. I was too sick, but I didn't know how sick I was,” she said.

What got her through her ordeal?

“Power of prayer, everybody praying for me to make it.”

Dean has been hit by at least 10 lawsuits, from patients as well as employees. A lawsuit on behalf of Renard has been drafted and is expected to be filed soon, according to her attorneys.

Amid a criminal investigation into the evacuation and warehouse conditions by state officials, all seven of his nursing homes have been shut down by the Louisiana Department of Health. 

The civil lawsuits are being defended by attorneys for Dean’s insurers. John McLindon, Dean’s criminal defense attorney, has already appealed the state revocation of his licenses.

In the four-page appeal letter, McLindon wrote, “There was no cruelty or indifference to the welfare of any of the residents. The nursing facilities were in substantial compliance with the nursing facility licensing laws, rules, and regulations.”

McLindon defended the evacuation and use of the Livingston warehouse in a WWL-TV interview.

“We executed the plan flawlessly,” McLindon said. “Even LDH agrees with that. They went by and said, 'This is good. People are coming in. Everything's good.' The only thing that changed is that the storm turned and went straight to the evacuation facility.”

As for Renard, she recently was forced to undergo a second operation to take even more of her infected leg, this time above the knee. She is now adjusting to life as a double amputee, recovering at a different rehab center on the West Bank.

Despite her hardships, Lisa Renard is grateful. She said the power of prayer helped get her through her ordeal.

“I look at it like this. Losing my leg was bad. But I didn't lose my life. I'm still alive. Thank God for that,” she said.

Renard said she is planning to get fitted for a second prosthetic leg. Among her goals is to, once again, work with children.

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