Expressway: Saved by electrical workers from out of town

Jud Newborn, left, and brother Kym Newborn with

Jud Newborn, left, and brother Kym Newborn with their mother, Rita Newborn, 86, with the "wound vac" medical device in her lap. (Credit: Kym Newborn)

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For decades, my 86-year-old mom, Rita Newborn of Plainview, was asked to use her soaring soprano to sing the national anthem at major events in Nassau County, from the dedication of Sagamore Hill as a national park to Ronald Reagan's appearance at a major Garden City Hotel gala just before declaring his candidacy for president.

She and Dad, Sol Newborn, a World War II Army Air Force navigator, bought their house on a GI Bill loan for $12,000 in 1953 and almost immediately founded the area's first synagogue, the Plainview Jewish Center, in their living room. For years, my father was Town of Oyster Bay receiver of taxes.

Mom, now widowed, frail, and nearly bed-ridden, depends on a "wound vac," an electric device that prevents infection by drawing fluids from an ulcer at the base of her spine. Superstorm Sandy knocked out power at the house, which I share with my mother, on Oct. 29. Afterward, my brother, Kym Newborn, and I repeatedly called the Long Island Power Authority to explain her medical situation.


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Meantime, Kym constantly charged the device by stringing an extension cord outside to a car cigarette lighter. Inside the house, following doctor's orders not to let the temperature fall below 70 degrees, we kept Mom warm by shutting doors to unused rooms, boiling water on the gas stove, and burning candles.

Just a day after Sandy hit, LIPA technicians visited neighbors across the street, where a downed power line was arcing wildly.

We asked the technician to look at our own outage. He said that since only eight houses on our side of the block were out, he'd be able to fix it in five minutes -- it was just a blown fuse in a transformer on a backyard pole. But it had grown dark and the technician, whom we'd told of the medical emergency, had to leave. No technician returned.

We made more calls, but remained in the dark with no sign about when someone would come.

All this ended on Election Day when I saw a utility crew not far from my polling place in Plainview. I stopped and explained my mother's situation to Dustin Taylor, a brawny, bearded supervisor for Xcel Energy in Carlsbad, N.M. He had arrived only a day earlier after volunteering to come cross-country to help resolve LIPA's crisis.

Taylor whipped out a Plainview map, pointed to our street, and told me, "We'll be there soon as we can, buddy. We'll check it out."

Ten minutes after I got home, Taylor and his assistant, Matt DePew, were there with a truck. Next thing I knew, my brother yelled that the electricity was back. Taylor said they replaced an electrical connection and reset the transformer.

I wasn't ready to blame LIPA, given the extent of the Sandy disaster and so many people with trouble far worse than ours. But we needed action. Thank God we got it -- from a couple of gallant utility workers from elsewhere who showed more brains, heart and competence than anything I'd seen from LIPA.

If only she could, I think Mom would have given them a personal rendition of the national anthem as her Election Day gift of thanks. And I've got a big Bronx cheer for LIPA.

Reader Jud Newborn lives in Plainview. To hear recordings of his mother singing years ago, go to his website -- judnewborn.posterous.com -- and scroll to the bottom of the homepage.

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