With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina coming up this week, it’s hard to find positive stories in the news. This is a time for us to remember all that was lost and a few things that were gained — in the midst of the devastation, one mom experienced a near miracle when her frozen embryo was rescued from a flooded fertility clinic in New Orleans.
Nearly two weeks after her fertility clinic was flooded by Hurricane Katrina with 8 feet of water, then 32-year-old Rebekah Crosby’s frozen embryo was rescued on Sept. 11, 2005. Crosby got pregnant nine months later, and Noah was born on Jan. 17, 2007. This makes Noah — very appropriately named by his parents after the story of Noah’s ark — the youngest living survivor of Hurricane Katrina, at just 8 years old.
What’s even more heartwarming about this story is that Noah knows exactly where he came from and what it took to bring him into this world. Earlier in the week, Noah told Yahoo! Parenting, “I’m Katrina’s youngest survivor! I’m famous!”
Conceiving through IVF is hard enough, which makes Noah’s entrance into this world even more remarkable. To retrieve the embryo at The Fertility Institute, Dr. Belinda “Sissy” Sartor and her lab director had to perform a rescue expedition on a flat-bottomed boat brought in from Illinois, along with the help of 10 police officers. In light of the havoc wreaked by Katrina, the doctors at the fertility clinic believed there was a 50 percent chance the couple’s remaining five embryos were still viable. Already a mother to 13-month-old Witt, also conceived through IVF, Crosby decided to give her frozen embryos one last chance, as she said, to add joy to their lives after a time of uncertainty.
Now the dramatic rescue that led to the successful conception of a happy little boy has made history. Not only does Noah’s uplifting story give us something to cling to as we remember the thousands of homes and businesses that were devastated and the 1,836 lives lost when the Category 5 storm hit on Aug. 29, 2005, but it provides a special word of encouragement for couples undergoing IVF.
It would be an understatement to say that IVF can be a difficult and expensive process. For many couples considering this alternative means of conception after months of trying, the outlook appears bleak from the start. The IVF success rate can swing widely based on the clinic and a number of personal factors, with estimates as high as 40 percent per-cycle success in some women (although 20-35 percent per-cycle success is considered more reasonable).
And then we have Noah’s story, where a frozen embryo was retrieved from floodwaters and used for successful implantation nine months later. Scientists estimate that embryos can be frozen for a long, long time — up to a few centuries — though most couples plan to use their embryos within a decade or less because of fertility constraints. But Noah’s case brings up something we often overlook when discussing the unpredictable process of IVF: Frozen embryos are hardy. In 2010, three fraternal triplets were born 11 years apart in the U.K. using IVF. A baby girl was born in 2005 after her embryo was frozen for 13 years, considered the longest frozen embryo that resulted in a healthy baby.
There’s no doubt that the 10th anniversary of Katrina is a time of heartbreak for so many people. But this story of “precious cargo” that beat the odds is important for two reasons. At face value, Noah’s unbelievable conception gives hope to frustrated parents undergoing yet another cycle of IVF. And for the rest of us, it’s a reminder of something that is far too easy to forget — good can still come out of great loss.