by: Jamie Grifo. M.D., Ph.D.
Published in ASRM Announcements
Dear Dr. Rebar:
As you know, New York City was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. I am writing to let you know how competing ART centers helped us handle the difficulties we encountered. The story is a tribute to the quality and commitment of people who practice in our specialty.
When the 14-foot storm surge hit, damaging the 14th Street Con Edison power plant, and the lights went out in lower Manhattan our generator functioned as planned. While power was lost in our surrounding area, one could see the lights on at the NYU Fertility Center. When the Fire Department arrived because of the lights, they smelled smoke from the UPS system of the MRI machine on the first floor, and they insisted that our generator be shut off. Our building personnel were adamant that shutting off the generator would compromise the embryos in our lab, and was able to convince the firemen that pumping out the flooded basement would ease the fire hazard. Fortunately, that had been planned for, knowing that flooding of lower levels of buildings was a possibility. Our crew pumped through the night, completely emptying the basement of water.
I picked up my team at 5:45 am Tuesday morning driving on the dark streets of NYC and arrived with Carolyn Mccaffrey, Ph.D. (Embryology lab Director) and other personnel, Maureen Ghosh (our administrator), Nandita Ganguly (our endocrine lab director) and our Fellow, Kara Goldman. We were happy to see our generator fully functioning. We had a scheduled retrieval for 10:00 am that morning (Tuesday), and despite no elevators or running water (the fire department forbid us from running those until we were sure there was no fire hazard), our team arrived as scheduled.
Shortly after, our patient arrived with her year old child (from our previous efforts) and husband and walked up five dark flights of stairs. We met in the waiting area and discussed our plans. At about 8:30 am while getting ready to do her scheduled 10:00 am retrieval, our generator ceased to function. We quickly ran to the 8th floor roof and realized that the 50-gallon reserve tank was empty, despite our 275-gallon basement tank having 175 gallons of fuel left. It became apparent that the basement pump had ceased to function due to the basement flooding from the storm surge, knowing it might not be a simple fix we made alternate plans.
My partners Fred Licciardi, Nicole Noyes and Alan Berkeley started reaching out to other programs and making contingency plans as we tried to anticipate the worst-case scenarios. We called Jaime Knopman, Eric Flisser and Alan Copperman of RMA of NY, and it was a simple matter for me to drive the patient, her baby and husband to the center. The patient had a timely retrieval thanks to the understanding and quick cooperation of a competing program.
While driving back, our embryology team called and we discussed freezing all embryos currently in the incubators that were now being kept safe by the battery-powered UPS system-- the so called backup to the backup. We made this decision because we had limited time available from this battery backup. We were able to restore our generator, and we also had previously arranged for extra liquid nitrogen tanks in case of a long-term problem, as all of our frozen material sat unscathed from danger.
Since we were uncertain when our elevators and building would be operable, we made plans for the 11 egg retrievals scheduled for Wednesday and the patients who needed monitoring. Drs. Christina Matera, Maureen Moomjy and Jessica Brown, who use our lab for their patients' retrievals, opened their office to us for monitoring with no questions asked and no concerns about financial or other issues. John Zhang and the New Hope Fertility Center allowed us to do egg retrievals at their site on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and Greenwich Fertility Center (our affiliated program) accommodated us on Saturday and Sunday, as did Susan Treiser and, Michael Darder of IVF NJ. Zev Rosenwaks, Owen Davis and The Cornell Program offered to have our patients retrievals done at their site, as well.
The level of concern for and spirit of helping patients in need was the focus of all. On Monday, we were back and fully operational. There were many unnamed heroes in this saga, but the real story was the willingness of all the people in our field to recognize the reason that we all exist--our patients. When the chips were down and patients were in need and jeopardized, no one asked questions or thought of reasons to say no, but instead, figured out a way to BE THERE for our patients. What an amazing group of people we have in our field! We should all be proud!
Jamie Grifo. M.D., Ph.D.
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