Publicity surrounds embryo rescued during hurricaine Katrina

Published: January 15, 2007 | 5311th good news item since 2003

Glen and Rebekah Markham are a bit taken aback by the worldwide publicity surrounding their child, scheduled to arrive by Caesarean section on Tuesday.

News outlets from as far away as Singapore are enthralled with the story of officers using flat-bottomed boats to rescue the child’s frozen embryo from a sweltering hospital in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The couple expected that maybe the story would show up in a local newspaper, and provide a page for the baby’s scrapbook.

“We never expected this much attention,” Rebekah Markham said Sunday.

The publicity has put them back in touch with childhood friends and neighbours. It’s also made it harder to get ready for the baby – preparations further hampered by the fact that Glen Markham can’t lift much of anything just now, or even install the baby car seat.

Markham, a New Orleans police officer, has been on disability since Dec. 3 when he wrenched his back wrestling a wanted man to the ground.

“We haven’t even picked out a name yet,” Rebekah Markham said.

That’s not because there’s a shortage of suggestions. They’ve ruled out Katrina, but friends and co-workers have suggested storm-related names, including Harry Cane for a boy and Cat Five for a girl.

Her husband’s choices include Duke and Nitro.

“I said, ‘I think that is a wrestler,”‘ Rebekah Markham said.

“Nitro could be liquid nitrogen, because that’s what saved him,” Glen Markham said. “For a girl, I like Breeze.”

When the storm hit, Glen Markham was assigned to the west bank of New Orleans, which didn’t flood. Most of his time in the next weeks was spent preventing looting and catching looters.

But the five frozen embryos that held the couple’s chance to give their son, Witt, a brother or sister were at a hospital in eastern New Orleans, which got some of the worst flooding.

Weeks after the storm, Rebekah Markham was afraid her embryos were gone. The embryos were among 1,400 frozen in canisters of liquid nitrogen at a hospital that housed one of the two labs for The Fertility Institute, the clinic which helped the Markhams create Witt.

The canisters can keep their contents frozen for weeks – but they’re designed for use in an air-conditioned room, not a building where temperatures were soaring into the high 30s during a hot September without any electricity.

Dr. Belinda “Sissy” Sartor helped lead a rescue expedition with officers from the Louisiana State Police and the Illinois Conservation Police, who were brought in because they had flat-bottomed boats. The officers plan to send the Markhams baby presents, said Illinois Conservation Police Lt. Eric Bumgarner.

The Markhams’ relief at learning the embryos were safe was far more than just knowing they wouldn’t have to pay another US$12,000 for a second round of in-vitro fertilization.

“We see our little boy – we see what the potential of those little embryos is,” Rebekah Markham said. “It meant more to us than a few cells frozen in a hospital.”

Witt is all boy, all energy, all two-year-old. His favourite word is “No!” Close behind is “tractor” – his green plastic battery-powered model, on which he zips around the yard.

At two, he doesn’t understand that he’s about to get a lot of competition for his parents’ attention. It will be good for him, the Markhams said. They said they’ll probably have him choose the new baby’s name – putting their top picks into a hat, and having Witt pull out one for a boy and one for a girl.

Published in Hurricane Katrina
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