'We are slowly rebuilding'

Six years ago, Dr. Stephen Yacoubian raced toward St. Vincent Medical Center as fighter jets pierced the sky, smoky debris filled the air and the World Trade Center crumbled in Lower Manhattan.

Running against the tide, Yacoubian walked into the hospital near the World Trade Center to a scene of “unimaginable carnage that was horrible and devastating.”

“It was like I was walking in a dream,” the orthopedic surgeon said Tuesday, the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “I thought I would forget about it, but it still makes me sad. It’s still surreal.”

Yacoubian joined dozens of doctors, nurses and administrators from Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in the hospital’s lobby to commemorate the anniversary.

“Within a 48-hour period after the attack, our Blood Donor Center collected 56 gallons of blood,” public relations manager Dan Boyle said. “It’s fitting that [the commemoration] is done here.”

The hospital also honored Burbank resident Dr. Yeneneh Betru, an internist who was killed on Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon that morning.

Betru had spent much of his spare time and money fixing six used dialysis machines to send to his hometown hospital in Ethiopia, hoping to open the country’s first dialysis clinic, Boyle said.

“Dr. Betru wanted to send these machines to Ethiopia to train physicians there on how to use them,” he said. “His grandmother died of renal kidney failure there because no dialysis machines were available in Ethiopia, except to the very rich.”

Hospital staff members carried on with Betru’s efforts.

“Nurses and other employees here have been instrumental in fulfilling Betru’s dream,” Boyle said.

“They raised $7,000 to purchase four new dialysis machines and help open the center.”

Citing government bureaucracy in Ethiopia, Boyle was unsure whether the machines have been delivered and did not know about the status of the clinic.

But Betru’s memory lives on through his former co-workers at the hospital, case manager Bobby Diamond said.

“He was a dedicated, wonderful human being,” Diamond said. “He was truly nice, and if you ask anyone, they will say the same thing.”

Hospital staff members have since planted a tree and mounted a plaque in his honor. The crepe myrtle tree stands outside the main lobby, while the 3-D plaque rests on the second-floor Intensive Care Unit wall.

“The tree was planted in his memory and is a beautiful reminder of Dr. Betru,” Interim Administrator Matt Gerlach said.

As Gerlach memorialized the hospital’s response to the attacks six years ago, his emotions got the better of him.

“This facility stepped up in a time of need,” said Gerlach, who took a brief moment to himself as tears welled. “I’m sorry, I always get worked up when talking about this. It was one of the worst things to have happened.”

Nurse Linda Hedlund also remembered Sept. 11, 2001, with sadness.

“I was overwhelmed with grief that day,” she said with tears in her eyes. “But we are slowly rebuilding today. The thing that is so great about this place is the sense of community. Giving and sharing is a part of who we are.”

The Burbank City Council honored the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Tuesday by issuing a proclamation honoring Patriot Day. Schools in the Burbank Unified School District also remembered the fateful day with Patriot Day tributes. William McKinley Elementary School, the only school not to hold a Patriot Day commemoration, will hold its own memorial at 8:35 a.m. Friday.

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