About a year ago, Hurricane Sandy swept through New York City and caused serious damage, wiping out power in most of Lower Manhattan and forcing many medical facilities to go into crisis mode. While patients in downtown medical centers were being evacuated to other hospitals, staff at the NYU Fertility Center scrambled to find a way to save the embryos incubating for in vitro fertilization when their power was cut off.
One year later, the fertility clinic team can say their rescue efforts paid off. Seven babies saved during the hurricane, called “Sandy Saves,” have been born to New York mothers and another six women are expecting. “We were able to salvage all of those cycles, and that’s huge,” Dr. James Grifo, the director of the clinic, told ABC News. “Our pregnancy rates stayed the same, as if the storm had never happened.” The NYU Fertility Center treats infertility in both men and women and offers services including in vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insemination, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and screening.
When the power was cut off in lower Manhattan during the storm, the fertility center staff relied on a generator to keep the incubators running. The incubators delicately monitor the embryos, keeping them at womb-temperature for in vitro fertilization. But flooding in the basement cut off the generator’s fuel supply, and shortly after the incubators began to cool. Grifo and his team then pulled several 5-gallon cans of diesel fuel up stairs to keep the generator going.
“Thankfully, there were so many people who worked together,” Grifo said. “To be a part of that was just amazing.” Due to their rescue efforts, the saved embryos were frozen with liquid nitrogen until power was restored at the NYU clinic. Not one cycle was lost, and the frozen eggs ended up producing a 60 percent live birth rate. Meanwhile, at the NYU Langone Medical Center, 300 patients had been evacuated as cells, tissues, and animals used for research were abandoned in dead fridges, freezers and incubators.
But even after the embryos were frozen, there were other crises that Grifo and his team needed to attend to during the next few days of the hurricane aftermath. One woman had had a surgical procedure called an egg retrieval scheduled for 10 a.m. the day after the hurricane. It was yet another delicate situation, where the procedure had to be done at a specific time down to the hour. Grifo drove the woman up to another fertility clinic that could complete the procedure, even though Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York was one of NYU Fertility Center’s biggest competitors. She ultimately gave birth from that egg retrieval.
Other hurricane hospital stories have emerged that show the tenacity of New York City medical workers in evacuating patients to safety. At the NYU Langone Medical Center, the evacuation was carried out overnight and involved staff workers pulling new mothers down the stairs using sleds, and nurses hand-pumping oxygen into newborns' lungs. One woman even delivered her baby by the light of a glow stick.
“It’s a testament to the people in New York who work in medicine," Grifo told ABC News, referring to the hospitals and clinics that offered his team support during the hurricane. “Some of our most vicious competitors offered assistance.”