Friday, October 24, 2008

When Thought Experiments Turn Real...

Charlie said...

Jim, here's a thought experiment for you.

You're trapped in a burning house, with little time to escape. To the left of you lies a 1yr old baby, Eddy. Eddy is drenched in smoke, barely able to breath, and sqealing in fear of the flames. He will be burnt alive in just a few seconds. But to the right of you rests a suitcase, inside of which are 50 embryos. They too will be burnt in a few seconds.

Your goal is to save as many persons as possible. You only have time to take one item with you when you escape: either Eddy or the suitcase.

Which would you take?

Rescued from Katrina, new life for a frozen embryo

· New Orleans baby being delivered by Caesarean
· Troopers saved storage tanks in flooded hospitalSuzanne Goldenberg in Washington

The Guardian, Tuesday January 16 2007 Article history

The new baby entering the world today in New Orleans will most definitely not be called Katrina. That much is guaranteed, and when he or she is old enough to ask how he or she got here, the parents will have quite a story to tell.

The child being born by Caesarean section today to Rebekah and Glen Markham is counted as one of the earliest survivors of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans some 18 months before his or her birth. The Markhams do not know the baby's gender.

When the hurricane hit, their baby was a frozen embryo at a fertility treatment centre at Lakeland hospital in eastern New Orleans, a part of the city that was severely affected by flooding. When the power went out, the embryo that would grow into the Markhams' baby - and the hopes of having a family for hundreds of other couples - was put at immediate risk.

The embryos, the products of in vitro fertilisation, were stored at the hospital for couples seeking to add to their families at a later date after a successful treatment, or for those whose earlier attempts to have a child had failed. There were 1,200 such embryos at the hospital.

Frozen embryos are typically stored in liquid nitrogen tanks at temperatures of 320 degrees below zero, and New Orleans in those days was sweltering. It was also lawless.

At the time, the prospect of losing their stored embryos did not even occur to the couple. Other concerns were too pressing. Ms Markham, 32, a physiotherapist, had fled New Orleans with the couple's son, Witt, who was also conceived following fertility treatment. Mr Markham, 42, a detective with the New Orleans police force, stayed on the job where he was assigned to stop looters.

But the hospital had already contacted Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Bianco, and was preparing a rescue plan for the stored embryos.

"Thank the Lord they thought about them," Ms Markham told the Times-Picayune newspaper. But for that intervention, the Markhams might never had had their baby, or the task of coming up with a way of best commemorating that odyssey of an embryo.

Friends have suggested they call their baby Harry Cane, or Cat Five - for the magnitude of storm that hit New Orleans. Mr Markham is thinking about Breeze, if it is a girl. He is also taken with Nitro, from frozen nitrogen, if it is a boy.

The hospital's rescue plan began two days before Katrina made landfall. At the fertility clinic housed on its premises, technicians moved the embryos, stored in individual labelled vials for each family, into four large canisters of liquid nitrogen. The technicians then topped off those tanks with additional nitrogen, and moved the embryos to the third floor of the hospital.

Even if the waters rose, the embryos would remain dry. But Katrina's eight foot surge of water knocked out the electricity supply for the hospital. While the embryos inside the tanks might have survived in an air-conditioned room, doctors knew they would not last long in the subtropical temperatures. "We were troubled about the embryos and how we could easily access the hospital," Dr Brenda Sartor told the newspaper. "The city was still in lockdown mode, and we knew it would have to be coordinated through a civil authority."

After a few calls, the hospital arranged for state troopers and visiting police officers from Illinois to rescue the embryos. The police, accompanied by two doctors, set out in trucks, towing flat bottomed boats behind them.

Once inside the hospital, they paddled through flooded hallways until they reached the third floor, taking care to keep the storage tanks upright so the nitrogen would not spill, and compromise the embryos.

The Markhams' baby will be the second delivery from the rescued embryos. A Mississippi couple had twins last month.

"This is something the baby will always be able to tell, about his rescue and birth," Ms Markham said. "People like to hear good from something so devastating."

Couple celebrate birth of son after embryo rescued from Katrina floods

Last updated at 18:05 16 January 2007

A couple whose frozen embryo was rescued from a flooded hospital after Hurricane Katrina hit have had a baby boy - and named him Noah.

Noah Markham was born by Caesarean section at St Tammany Hospital weighing 8 pounds and 6 1/2 ounces. His mother, Rebekah Markham, had decided on the name "because God put it on his heart to build an ark." Doctors said the baby boy was in good shape.
Relatives gathered around as father Glen Markham carried the baby downstairs to meet them. For a few seconds he tried to make them guess whether the baby in the pink-and-blue striped cap was a boy or a girl, then he said: "It's a boy" to an eruption of cheers and applause.

His grandmother, Lezette Crosby, got on the telephone to another relative: "It's Noah, Noah, it's a boy."

When Katrina struck, the baby was one of 1,400 embryos frozen for storage in canisters of liquid nitrogen at a hospital in eastern New Orleans. Rebekah Markham, 32, had evacuated before the hurricane with their toddler, Glen Witter "Witt" Markham Jr. Her husband, a New Orleans police officer, stayed to work.
Mother and son actually evacuated twice. The first time was to relatives' about a half-hour from their brick-and-tan-siding home, nestled among 40-foot-tall (12-metre) pine trees in Covington.

But the storm toppled trees and cut electricity across south Louisiana. Their first refuge became a poor place to care for a toddler who had turned 1 only 10 days before the storm, so they went to Rebekah Markham's sister's home in central Louisiana.

A cell phone text message - "R U OK?" - the day after the storm told her that her husband had survived. He was stationed across the Mississippi River from flooded parts of the city. But it had its own dangers. One member of his squad was shot in the head on August 29 after confronting looters at a gas station.

Markham, 42, never got his wife's answer to his text query. His phone's battery was dead. "It was about two weeks before I found out that they were OK," he said.
It took longer than that to have time to think about the embryos. When Rebekah Markham called, she learned that they had been rescued.

Dr Belinda "Sissy" Sartor of The Fertility Institute of New Orleans and the clinic's lab director, Roman Pyrzak, had led seven Illinois Conservation Police officers and three from Louisiana State Police on a rescue expedition to the facility in flat-bottomed boats brought from Illinois.

Witt is also an in-vitro baby. His embryo was created at the same time as his brother's or sister's, but it was implanted immediately, while five others were frozen in case of miscarriage - and because the Markhams always wanted more than one child.

They are not sure whether they will have a third. "I thought three would be the ideal number," Rebekah Markham has said. But her medical problems have required bedrest for the first three months of each pregnancy. "And I was even more sick with this one than with Witt."

They also needed a lot of family help to take care of Witt, a boy who never seems to stop running. So any decision probably will be postponed until both children are in school.

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