Power outage threatens medical device users

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The massive power outage that has plunged much of Long Island into darkness has meant an even more precarious situation for patients who require electricity to run life-sustaining medical equipment.

Patients on electrically driven ventilators, intravenous feeding machines, suction devices, oxygen concentrators and electronic medication infusion machines require a reliable and continuous source of electricity. Without power, they could face a medical emergency -- or death.

More than 70 such patients have been rushed to John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank this week.

"We have quite a few people who've been evacuated from home and from hospitals that have lost power," said Dr. Maureen Crowley, the skilled nursing facility's medical director.

She said the sudden rise in patients at the Suffolk County facility forced staff members to remain on the job around-the-clock.

LIPA has a Critical Care Program with an estimated 3,600 participants, but the program doesn't provide backup generators, said LIPA spokeswoman Joanne Schindelheim.

Instead, she noted, LIPA notifies those customers of impending weather emergencies, such as Sandy, so they can develop an alternate power plan.

Meanwhile, at Stony Brook University's Heart Institute, nurse practitioner Kathleen Lopez-Newton said patients surgically outfitted with the electronically driven heart implant called a left-ventricular assist device -- LVAD -- are sent home with a battery supply and instructions that in the event of power failure, they should plug in at a hospital or a fire department.

The device pumps like an artificial heart and is powered by either a portable battery pack or an electronic module.

LVAD patient Susan Neikens, of Mastic Beach, said she didn't lose power at her house. "We've been extraordinarily lucky," said Neikens, who added that such was not the case for her son and his family in Mastic.

Her 5-year-old grandson has epidermolysis bullosa, a genetic connective-tissue condition, and has a surgical opening in his trachea, his grandmother said, for an electronic suctioning device. The boy also requires oxygen and a vaporizer.

"They were without power for close to 24 hours," Neikens said. "But my son has a backup generator that can run all of the equipment."


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