Anna Rueb, 6, of the Netherlands, doesn’t yet know all the particulars of her birth.
She’s learned that, besides being a citizen of the Netherlands, she’s also a citizen of America.
But how that all came to be — how she was born, some two months prematurely, in New Orleans just five days before Hurricane Katrina — she’ll learn as she grows older, said her dad, Carel Rueb.
“We’re telling her in small pieces. She knows she’s an American and has two passports,” Rueb said.
Anna also knows that there were lots of people in Baton Rouge happy to see her recently.
This month, her family made a trip to Louisiana for the first time since a vacation trip to the U.S. six years ago turned into one of the most drama-filled passages of their lives.
“I think it was a success story. It was a crazy time, but it came out very well,” Rueb said.
In the summer of 2005, Carel and Corine Rueb, an expectant couple from the city of Zwolle in the Netherlands, decided to visit the U.S. prior to the birth of their baby.
Corine Rueb, who was then approximately six months pregnant, had enjoyed a visit to this country years earlier.
She wanted to show her husband the places she loved here. They set their sights on a visit to Disneyworld, New Orleans and the plantations along the Mississippi River.
“’You have to see New Orleans!’” Corine Rueb, who teaches law at a college in Zwolle, remembers telling her husband, who’s a software consultant.
Traveling in early August 2005, the couple had enjoyed Disneyworld and were in Natchez, Miss., when Corine Rueb went into premature labor, at 25 weeks, and her husband drove her to a local hospital.
The average gestation period is 40 weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
At the hospital in Natchez, the couple learned that if the baby was born there, it would need to be transported right away to a larger hospital that could care for a premature infant.
With the input of the medical staff in Natchez, the couple decided to get to Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans, before the baby arrived, Carel Rueb said.
Corine Rueb traveled there by ambulance, and her husband followed in his rental car.
Their vacation path had taken on a life of its own.
Corine Rueb was admitted to Ochsner on Aug. 8, and Anna was born on Aug. 24, at 27 weeks and six days. She weighed just a little over 2 pounds.
After her birth, her parents were able to stay in a hotel next to the hospital and visit their tiny newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit, twice a day.
Both of their mothers had traveled over from the Netherlands to be with them.
And then, on Aug. 29, 2005, five days after Anna’s birth, Hurricane Katrina hit.
“We saw the hurricane. It looked bad, but not so bad, like a bad storm,” Carel said.
“OK, we made it,” they thought, when the storm itself had passed, he said.
But, then, the waters started rising and the couple learned the following day that all of the babies in the hospital would be evacuated.
The Ruebs and their mothers and Anna rode, with other babies and parents, in an ambulance to Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, which would ultimately take in more than 100 infants from New Orleans hospitals.
“I don’t remember that many details. It had been so stressful,” Corine Rueb said of her travel and arrival here.
“We had this impression of (things being) so busy. All these babies coming in,” she said.
“I remember when we got here, I kind of let go. ‘Just let you do your job,’” she thought, as she saw the doctors and nurses on hand. “I started sleeping again.”
But, first, she asked to have a breast pump. She had been using one to provide her baby with breast milk, since Anna was born.
“It was the only thing I could do for Anna. We had to let others do (for her). It’s so hard to let others take care of your baby,” Corine Rueb said.
Once they arrived in Baton Rouge, and Anna was admitted to the Woman’s Hospital N.I.C.U., the couple and their mothers were taken in by obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. F.A. Moore III and his wife, Karen, who had volunteered along with others to provide places to stay for incoming families.
Six days later, Corine Rueb and her daughter were flown back to the Netherlands, in a Lear jet sent here by the Netherlands government, with Carel Rueb traveling at the same time on a commercial flight.
Also on the Lear jet from the Netherlands, providing care for Anna, said Dr. Moore, was a neonatologist, a respiratory therapist and a registered nurse.
Before the Ruebs returned to the Netherlands, arrangements had to be made to provide a temporary passport for Anna, for her arrival in her parents’ homeland.
During their visit to Louisiana in mid-August, Carel and Corine Rueb and their daughter visited with nurses like Jenny Silbemagel, Karen Guillory and Laurel Kitto, now manager of the N.I.C.U., who remembered the couple from the Netherlands.
The Ruebs also got to say hello to Dr. Steven Spedale, chief of neonatology at Woman’s, who coordinated all of the emergency transportations to Woman’s Hospital in the wake of Katrina.
In the days after the storm, babies were arriving by helicopter and ambulance, he said. Some were driven over by their parents and some by physicians, Spedale said.
“Pretty much however they could get out of New Orleans,” he said.
While here, the Ruebs were also able to visit quite a bit with the Moores, who have come to seem like their U.S. family, after providing a temporary home and refuge six years ago.
Anna, who will be starting first grade in September, calls Dr. Moore and his wife, Opa and Oma, grandpa and grandma.
While here, the Ruebs and the Moores visited the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and the Baton Rouge Zoo.
When asked about her favorite animal — her father translating the question for her — Anna (her name is pronounced “Ah-na”) replied through him that she likes the jaguar best.
She calls it Simba, after the character in the movie, “The Lion King,” her favorite movie, her dad said.
Corine Rueb said that people have told her that Anna, who has “Louisiana” as one of her middle names, should return to her namesake state (there’s even a town in Louisiana named Zwolle in honor of the Dutch town, http://www.zwollela.net/ when she’s 18 and become an LSU Tiger.
Corine Rueb said that just might happen one day.