Infant Returns to NYU Langone After Superstorm Sandy Evacuation

PHOTO: William "Will" Donovan had heart surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center when he was three days old. Three weeks later, Superstorm Sandy forced the hospital to evacuate.
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A Long Island infant was back at NYU Langone Medical Center last week for his second heart surgery, prompting the usual jitters from his parents, but they knew it would be nothing like his first heart surgery.

William "Will" Donovan was just three weeks old when Superstorm Sandy prompted an emergency evacuation of the hospital just days after he started breathing on his own for the first time.

"It was strangely kind of like a homecoming," said Will's father, Jeremy Donovan. "It's an odd thing to spend that much time at a place and [have such an] intense emotional experience … and come back three months later."

The evacuation that night would take hours and prompt Donovan to run 10 blocks to the hospital during the storm, argue with a security guard for 30 minutes, lose said argument, wait two hours outside the hospital, and run up 15 flights of stairs before he found Will and accompanied the team carrying him back down the stairs and to Mount Sinai Hospital further uptown.

Will, of course, slept through the whole thing.

"He fell asleep before the evacuation," Donovan said, with a laugh. "He's had more stressful times with us in the car than in an ambulance being evacuated from a hospital in a hurricane."

Will was born with a congenital heart defect: His left ventricle didn't work, Donovan said. He needed surgery when he was three days old to compensate for the fact that his heart only had one functioning pump instead of two, Donovan said.

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When Sandy hit New York City on Oct. 31, Will was one of six patients in the Congenital Cardiovascular Care Unit on the 15th floor of the hospital, said Dr. Achiau Ludomirsky, who directs pediatric cardiology at the hospital. They were all between the ages of five days and three years old, and four of them were on ventilators the week before, including Will.

But by the day of the storm, most of the babies were breathing on their own. Will stopped needing a ventilator about a week earlier.

"He was just getting to a point where he was wireless, as it were," Donovan said. "He was much more portable at a time where he needed to be, so it worked out very well."

The Donovans knew Sandy was coming, but the hospital was confident of its backup electricity generators and told families to either head home early or plan on staying through the storm. They went home to their temporary apartment 10 blocks away. They live in Long Island and temporarily moved to Manhattan just before Will was born because they knew he'd need surgery right away.

Meanwhile, at the hospital, Lori Touchette, the head nurse on Will's unit, was having a semi-normal day at the Congenital Cardiovascular Care Unit. As the storm began outside, she and her colleagues made sure things were plugged in properly and that everyone had flashlights and charts printed on paper – just in case.


Will Donovan surrounded by nurses at NYU Langone for his follow-up surgery last week. (Image credit: Courtesy/Jeremy Donovan)

"It all happened around the shift change at 8 p.m.," Touchette said. "Someone had told us coming from the outside that First Avenue was flooded."

Aware of the pouring rain, gusting winds and surging East River, the day shift nurses stayed at the hospital even though the night nurses were coming in to replace them. Touchette had double her usual staff.

SLIDESHOW: Superstorm Sandy's Wide Swath of Destruction

Then, the power went out. Although the hospital had backup generators, they were located in the basement, which flooded. The backup generators failed.

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