When Sexton interviewed for the job of chief operating officer of the university medical center in 2000, she voiced concerns in regard to hurricanes. President John Stobo told her to not worry, she recalls.
However, with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on the Texas campus in September, 2005, Sexton - now the vice president and chief executive officer of the six-hospital system - wasn't so sure that Stobo's advice to not worry made sense anymore.
As incident commander, Sexton evacuated 424 patients - of this number, more than 100 were either critically ill or on life support - while Hurricane Rita steamed toward the Gulf Coast island city of Galveston, Texas.
The quick, hectic 10-hour evacuation was the first in the campus' 114-year history.
"It was painful for all of us...because we knew we were changing history," said Sexton, who earned master's and doctorate degrees from the University of Kentucky in 1984 and 1996, and worked for the UK Chandler Medical Center for 25 years. "And I felt a long way from home," she added.
One of Sexton's major moves involved the precarious hospital evacuation. "We thought some patients would be so unstable that the decision to move them out would be making a decision that would cost them their lives," she said. But, not one patient died during the evacuation, an accomplishment Sexton didn't have time to celebrate for the hospital remained open during the hurricane, with only a skeleton crew on hand to operate urgent care.
"I took some grief about that, but all in all...I had short time frames to make decisions," said Sexton, who worked 20-hour days throughout the crisis. "I had to be firm and decisive," she said.
During the hurricane, Sexton's emergency room treated one burn patient in critical condition and three firefighters. "There were moments when I thought, 'Oh my God, what if I don't do this right and people die?'" Sexton said. "There were moments where I was scared that I'd never see my house again, that the island would be destroyed.
"If we went down, I wanted to go down with people thinking we'd done everything we possibly could, and we'd done it right."
Kentuckians certainly thought she was doing the right thing, as friends and strangers who saw her on national and cable news (Sexton was interviewed on the Larry King Live Show) called and wrote to offer their support. "It gives you strength to know it matters to people, because I was doing what mattered to me," she said.
Sexton has since abandoned any illusions she may have once had about hurricanes. Now, she's just hoping that she doesn't have to evacuate again.
"They're predicting another hurricane season just like the one we had," she said. "We're busily trying to learn...then, we hunker down and we wait."
Sexton is the daughter of the late Olive Turner and Adrian Hall, formerly of Minnie. Now a resident of Galveston, Texas, she and husband, Donald, are the parents of two children, Travis, currently a student at the University of Kentucky, and a daughter who lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, Dr. Tony Hernandez.
The Sexton's recently became grandparents to new darling granddaughter, Madeline Rose Hernandez.