The mothers who delivered babies at a powerless hospital during Hurricane Sandy now associate the devastating storm with one of the happiest days of their lives.
After New York University’s Langone Medical Center lost power during the storm it was evacuated, and new mothers and newborns had to be helped down flights of stairs using only flashlights to proceed to safety.
The children, now five, were born during one of New York City’s most chaotic natural disasters that killed 43 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes and apartments.
Now, their parents remember the experience with awe, humor, gratitude and the chagrin of sharing a day of personal joy with a natural disaster.
Medical workers carry a baby into an ambulance as the NYU Langone Medical Center is evacuated during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Thirty-two infants were among those moved after the hospital was flooded and lost power
Their lives began when Superstorm Sandy forced the evacuation of 32 newborn babies from NYU Langone, which had flooded and lost power.
Hospital staffers tended to laboring women in the dark and carried mothers and tiny infants – 21 of them in intensive care – down stairways into the thick of the 2012 storm.
Hurricane Sandy was 1,000 miles wide, and it caused nearly 100-mile-an-hour winds to push ocean water inland in New York and New Jersey.
Doctors and nurses squeezed air pumps by hand to fill some of the most fragile babies’ lungs.
In the end, every one was delivered to safety.
Five years later, some of those babies are kindergartners with mementos of the storm in their birthday celebrations, keepsake boxes and even their names.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE POWER GOES OUT – WHILE A WOMAN IS GIVING BIRTH
At 9am on October 29, 2012 – the day of the storm – Tamar Weinstock woke up her husband Allon and said: ‘I know this is the worst possible timing, but I think my water just broke.’
Tamar’s due date was three weeks off. But their first child was coming – and so was Sandy.
The Weinstocks hurried from their home in Long Island City to NYU Langone Health’s Tisch Hospital, located along the East River in midtown Manhattan.
‘Oh, my God, this is happening in the middle of a hurricane,’ Tamar thought. ‘You’re in the best possible place,’ staffers reassured her.
Tamar Weinstock (left), pictured here with her son Stone (right), was among those evacuated when the hospital lost power. She was told she needed to deliver Stone quickly so as to avoid giving birth in an ambulance
With the hospital room shades pulled down, the couple took in only snatches of the storm from the room’s TV.
Tamar, a banker, and Allon, a construction project manager, noticed the electricity flicker at 7pm. But generators kicked in.
Then, at 8.30pm, the backup power failed, and the hospital plunged into darkness.
Monitors went silent. Electronics that keep patient records were useless. Elevators stopped.
But labor didn’t. ‘You just have to keep going with what you’re doing,’ Tamar remembered realizing.
WHY SOME CHILDREN SUFFER PSYCHOLOGICALLY AFTER NATURAL DISASTERS
The onslaught of natural disasters, including hurricanes, in the past few months has led to a discussion about the treatment children require in the aftermath of a tragedy.
A report published in the American Journal of Family Therapy says that children are at-risk for developing permanent psychological changes during these disasters.
This is because they do not yet have the coping skills they need to process catastrophic events.
The report stated that many children exhibit temporary symptoms after a natural disaster but that these can be mitigated by a network of people – teachers and parents included – who provide emotional support.
Additionally, this network should provide the child with alternative coping strategies.
But if these interventions do not help a child, they might need to attend counseling.
HOW DOCTORS TREATING NEWBORNS REALIZED THEY WERE ‘WORKING AGAINST TIME’ THE NIGHT OF HURRICANE SANDY
NYU Langone had thought it could handle Sandy. After moving out frail patients before an ultimately uneventful Hurricane Irene in 2011, the hospital was allowed to stay open during Sandy and assured city officials it had generators and fuel ready.
Then Sandy raised the East River by more than 10 feet, crippling a nearby power plant and pouring more than 15 million gallons of water through air vents and other openings into the hospital’s basement.
The water triggered sensors that shut off fuel to the generators providing power for 322 patients.
The obstetrics safety chief Dr William Schweizer and his colleagues had about 10 patients in labor and others who had just delivered, including one who’d had a premature baby.
The physicians, nurses and aides had to get them all out of the hospital.
But the doctors decided that first they would deliver babies who appeared ready to arrive by midnight in an attempt to avoid births in ambulances.
Out came flashlights, emergency glow sticks, and techniques from a less technological era.
Doctors used stethoscopes and battery-operated devices to monitor unborn babies’ heartbeats. Nurses kept track of contractions with watches, pens and paper.
‘We just dealt with our own familiarity with a process that has been going on for as long as mankind has been,’ Dr Schweizer said. ‘People pulled out of their soul what they could do,’ he added.
FATHER DESCRIBES HOW ‘NOTHING ELSE MATTERED’ WHEN HE HEARD HIS BABY’S CRY DURING THE STORM
Tamar did not feel ready to deliver her baby, but hospital staff members rallied her. Doctors expressed the urgency with which her son needed to be delivered.
At 10.29pm the Weinstocks saw their son for the first time – by flashlight.
‘You hear your baby crying for the first time, and nothing else really matters,’ Allon explained.
His son Stone is now a kindergartner whose unofficial middle name is Awesome. It was bestowed on him by a cousin. Glow sticks are a go-to favor at his birthday parties.
Stone’s parents credit NYU Langone with staying calm during the unforeseen circumstances surrounding his birth.
Since Hurricane Sandy the hospital has undertaken more than $1billion in improvements to prevent flooding.
Tamar and Allon, both 37, make sure Stone knows he is fortunate to be celebrating a day that was catastrophic for many others in New York City.
‘You almost feel guilty that for us it’s such a happy moment because that’s what started our family. But it’s not lost on us what everybody else went through,’ Allon said.
NEW MOTHER WALKS DOWN 13 FLIGHTS OF STAIRS WITHOUT BEING ABLE TO HOLD HER BABY
Staffers came into Julz Donald’s darkened room explaining that the hospital where she’d had daughter Freda that morning was being evacuated. Donald said she could walk out.
‘I didn’t actually realize where we were,’ the 42-year-old marketing researcher said, chuckling.
They were on the 13th floor, and the stairs were the only way down.
The first families to leave were those whose babies had health issues. Then, around 2am Donald and husband Mark Potts were escorted by a doctor, nurses, medical students and volunteers down a stairway by flashlight.
Julz Donald (left) and her daughter Freda (right) had to be evacuated from NYU Langone during Hurricane Sandy
At the hospital’s insistence, a nurse carried a tightly swaddled Freda.
Donald remembers thinking: ‘Let’s get down these stairs so I can get my baby back.’
Her legs were exhausted by the time they reached a lobby illuminated by the flashing lights of dozens of ambulances. Her husband said it looked ‘like a scene out of Die Hard’.
The family, from Long Island City, keeps its hospital-issued flashlight in a ‘birth box’ for Freda, a wry girl who likes Irish dance, writing, beluga whales, the color purple – but not the wind.
Dmitry (right) and Daria Shurba (left) gave their second child, Masha (middle), the middle name Sandra because she was born during Hurricane Sandy
HOW HURRICANE SANDY LED ONE COUPLE TO NAME A CHILD AFTER IT
Dmitry and Daria Shurba were about to take newborn daughter Masha home when they settled on her middle name: Sandra, after the storm.
The Stamford, Connecticut, couple’s second child was born at NYU Langone around noon on the day of the storm.
Dmitry, a 42-year-old auto sales manager, was returning from getting celebratory flowers and wine when the power went out with Daria, 39, in a 13th-floor room.
After he got there the windows rattled so ominously that the family waited in a hallway for its turn to walk down the stairs.
The Shurbas figured their daughter should be proud of being born during a historic storm, and she is.
She sometimes asks to be called by her middle name, said Daria, an information technology project manager.
‘I call her my little hurricane, at times,’ Daria said. ‘She has a great heart and everything, so she’s tough.’
TWO POUND PREMATURE BABY USING OXYGEN TANK CARRIED DOWN NINE FLIGHTS OF STEPS BY HOSPITAL STAFF
Kenneth Hulett III weighed just over two pounds (0.9 kilograms) with feet the size of fingernails when Sandy struck.
He had just been born two-and-a-half months early by emergency cesarean section and rushed to NYU Langone’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Doctors had determined he might have a rare and potentially serious genetic disorder.
His parents, Emily Bolton-Blatt and Kenneth Hulett Jr were still in a recovery room when the power went out.
Hulett raced up to the darkened NICU, where he recalls a nurse asking him to watch the numbers displayed on a machine running on backup batteries.
He watched, unsure what the numbers meant, wondering how long the batteries would last and hoping for the best.
Kenneth Hulett III (right) was carried down nine flights of steps shortly after being born two-and-a-half months early in the midst of Hurricane Sandy. He is pictured here with his mother Emily Bolton-Blatt (left)
‘This is a natural disaster happening while our son was just born,’ Hulett said.
‘One of the happiest moments in your life…But then, with the chaos around it, it’s just all of the emotions mixed into one.’ Then the word came: evacuate.
Worried about Bolton-Blatt but unable to leave their son’s side, Hulett followed the tiny boy, clasped in a nurse’s arms, down nine flights of narrow stairs lined by people with flashlights.
The nurse and a doctor pumped air into his son’s lungs by squeezing a plastic bulb over and over. A security guard carried an oxygen tank and two nurses toted monitors alongside them.
‘Let us get to safety’ was Hulett’s only thought as he sloshed through heavy rain to an ambulance.
His son Kenny would be hospitalized for another three months before coming home to Flushing in Queens.
Now a talkative, engaging kid, he has needed surgeries for a cleft palate but hasn’t been affected by the genetic disorder that was a concern before his birth.
He plays with his family’s cat, eyeballs cartoons and giggles occasionally while his parents tells visitors the first chapter of his life story.
For his first birthday, his grandmother had a banner made with a custom message: ‘Stronger than the storm’.