Boy celebrates surviving Hurricane Katrina as an embryo

Hurricane Katrina
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 8/27/15, 02:30 pm

Noah Benton Markham was born 16 months after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. The now-8-year-old likes to say he is “Katrina’s youngest survivor.” Police saved his embryo in a floodwater rescue of a New Orleans fertility clinic after the hurricane flooded 80 percent of the city 10 years ago this weekend.

Noah’s parents, Rebekah and Glen Markham, assumed their frozen embryos were lost in the storm. Rebekah evacuated to a relative’s home with their 1-year-old son, Witt. Glen, a New Orleans police officer, stayed behind as a first responder. With phone-service and electricity down, Glen waited two weeks before hearing that his wife and son were safe with family. 

All the while, administrators from The Fertility Institute of New Orleans worked to save the embryos. In preparation for the hurricane, staff packed nearly 1,400 embryos in canisters with liquid nitrogen. The fragile embryos needed to stay at a temperature of 320 degrees below zero to survive. They then moved the canisters from the first to the third floor of the clinic, hoping they would clear floodwater levels. Days later, staff learned the eastern New Orleans clinic was flooded with 8 feet of water and had no electricity, with outside temperatures mounting 100 degrees.

“We were troubled about the embryos and how we could easily access the hospital,” Dr. Brenda Sartor of The Fertility Institute said , according to reporting by The Guardian. “The city was still in lockdown mode, and we knew it would have to be coordinated through a civil authority.”

The clinic contacted Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. On Sept. 11, 2005, nearly two weeks after the hurricane, seven officers from the Illinois Conservation Police and three Louisiana State Police officers executed a rescue mission led by two clinic staff members. The rescuers navigated the first-floor clinic hallways in flat-bottomed boats, retrieved the canisters from the third floor, and carefully brought the embryos to land.

With little hope that the embryos had survived, Rebekah called the clinic phone number and left a message. Days later, she heard back: The embryos were safe. The clinic sent her a video of the rescue operation.

Nine months later, the couple decided to implant. Unsure if the embryos would be viable after their arduous journey, the couple said they leaned on their faith. “I had all my faith in Jesus Christ,” Rebekah told Yahoo Parenting. “If it was meant for me to have another child, it was going to happen regardless of what the embryos went through, what I went through. … It gave me peace.”

Noah was born on January 16, 2007, named after the biblical Noah, who was rescued on a boat. Roman Pyrzak, lab director for The Fertility Institute, and one of the staff members who paddled boats into the clinic to save the embryos came to the hospital to meet the family.

Noah is now a rambunctious third-grader and close friend of his brother, Witt, also conceived by in vitro fertilization. Rebekah told Yahoo Parenting she sees their story as one of hope in the midst of tragedy: “Their mom evacuated. Witt evacuated. Their dad rescued people. Other people rescued Noah. He is a part of history. He beat the odds.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kiley Crossland

Kiley reports on marriage, family, and sexuality for WORLD Digital. Follow Kiley on Twitter @KileyCrossland.

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