[caption id="attachment_34491" align="alignright" width="389"] One of The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York (TOFA-NY) 2013 awardees, Menchu Sanchez, (far left) celebrating with her daughter Michelle, husband Judith, mother Simona, and son Jude, their Christmas Pinoy-style in the United States[/caption]
Vim Nadera: Kindly take us to October 29, 2012 when your surprise guest, Sandy, visited you.
Menchu Sanchez: When the power outage happened that night at 6:00 pm, the main backup generator picked up the power for the whole hospital. But after two hours, around 8:00 pm, the generator was hit by water and it also stopped working. The whole hospital plunged into total darkness. That’s when we used our cell phones to light the premature babies. During the early days, Florence Nightingale used the lamp. But now, 21st century, the age of high technology, we, modern-day nurses used cell phones. Don’t you see the comon denominator? We only have one goal: TO SAVE LIVES. Since there’s no way we can be out of the hospital to evacuate the babies, I suggested that the only way we can bring the babies down to safety was by holding them one by one and bringing them nine flights of stairs. At first, the bosses did not agree with my suggestion, because we still had to follow the hospital protocols in transporting the babies and evacuating them. But I kept telling them that there’s no way we can get out except to carry them one by one. After two hours of deliberation, the attendings finally agreed with my plan and Dr. Martha Caprio came to me and said: “Menchu, will you be able to do this?” I said: “Yes I will.” We organized the team that will do the first transport and with the respiratory therapist, Albert, holding the oxygen tank, Dr. Hannaise Cruz, bagging the baby and me holding the baby, with warmer and blankets wrapped up. Nurses Erna Toledo, Annie Irace, and Didith Bautista held the pumps and IVs, and the 9E Headnurse Gail Gellarthy walked backwards for us not to move fast. We started moving with synchronized step... step... step. In every floor, we stopped and Dr. Caprio would say: “The heart rate is ok, respiration is ok, baby is good.” We moved on to the next floor. On and on till we got to the first level. The New York Police Department Emergency Service Unit were on the ground ready to get me to a stretcher. We were able to transport the babies safely to different city hospitals using this plan. I worked 42 hours until all patients were transferred to safety. Thank God! All throughout our evacuation, we didn’t have any record of fatality. When I was going back to the 9th floor after all babies were transferred out, I only got to the 6th floor because my heart and my legs got frozen. I was breathless that one of the doctors noticed me and said: “Stop right there, you are not moving on that corner until you feel you’re able to.” I could have died of heart attack if I’d move one more step. He let me sit on the floor and he asked a medical student to watch me. He said he didn’t want to have any casualty that night.
VN: What did you feel when you were chosen as a special guest of the First Lady Michelle Obama during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013?
MS: I was very happy, humbly overwhelmed, and excited that I would be able to see them. I was not expecting to hug them. Just a close encounter with them is enough. To this day, I feel like it’s just a dream. A dream of a lifetime. I never expected that a simple person like me would be able to meet the most powerful President and the First Lady of America. I am so honored and so lucky to be at The President’s State of the Union Address, to witness him talk, being mentioned in his speech. I am so thrilled and so proud of such honor.
VN: Did that change you or your life at all?
MS: My being a wife, a mother, a daughter, and sister remained the same. The awards, honors, and citations given by different organizations are too overwhelming. I became very busy with speaking engagements and interviews. I still work at New York University Langone Medical Center and at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. My jobs keep me busy in between other activities. Despite being busy, I always dedicate a wholesome day for my family. Our family doesn’t fail to attend Sunday masses. I always tell our kids that if we can spend time with other activities, we should give an hour with the Lord. It’s all that I’m asking for. I thank God for every breath we take. And for all the blessings and graces He bestowed on us!
VN: How would you see yourself 10 years from now?
MS: That I will be a retired nurse. Taking care of my grandkids. Going places. Enjoying the fruits of our hard labor. Just being able to do things my own pace. Without the pressure of any work-related activities. Possibly dedicating my time serving the church and the community. And taking medical missions to the Philippines with other organizations. That will be another dream for me. I wish it will come true too.
VN: Any plan to stay in the Philippines for good?
MS: Yes, of course, like everyone say: “There’s nothing more beautiful than our home country.” Home sweet home!