NEWSBEAT: Special Delivery

Rebekah and Glen Markham of Covington sent greeting cards announcing their baby’s birth to some people they barely know but who had already played an extraordinary part in the baby’s life. 

That’s because the Markhams’ mailing list included members of the team of volunteers who rescued more than 1,400 frozen embryos from the flooded Lakeland Hospital in eastern New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina – including the one that became Noah, their healthy baby boy born in January.

“Katrina is a huge part of American history and this baby will one day tell the story about surviving it before even being born,” says Rebekah. 

In 2003, Rebekah and Glen, a New Orleans police officer, sought help conceiving a child at a local clinic called the Fertility Institute. It was an expensive and physically exhausting process, Rebekah says, but it paid off when she gave birth to the couple’s first child, Witt, in 2004. The rest of the embryos were kept in super-cold liquid nitrogen at the clinic until the Markhams were ready for a second child. 

When Hurricane Katrina threatened New Orleans in late August 2005, these containers were moved to the third floor of Lakeland for safekeeping. When the city began to flood, the hospital was evacuated and after three days even the emergency generators ran out of fuel. Without air conditioning, the liquid nitrogen would begin to evaporate much faster than normal, endangering the embryos.  

“I was determined to get the embryos to a safer place because I knew the value they had to the families,” says Dr. Sissy Sartor, a fertility expert at the institute. “They represented their future children.” 

Dr. Sartor explained the situation to state officials and by Sept. 11, 2005 a group was assembled that included New Orleans police, National Guardsmen and Illinois Conservation Police who were helping rescue people after the storm to retrieve the embryos. Dr. Sartor and Dr. Roman Pyrzak of the institute guided their flotilla of flat-bottomed boats through the flooded streets leading to the hospital. They carefully floated back out of the city with the 35-liter containers aboard and the institute began notifying families that their embryos were safe. In 2006, Rebekah became pregnant using some of the rescued embryos.

“We made it through Katrina, our whole family lived through it, and in the end we get a little baby to love,” she says. – I.M.

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