2 years after superstorm Sandy, how is RN hero Menchu de Luna Sanchez doing?

At the Poland Embassy for International Women's Day: 'Life is good.'

At the Poland Embassy for International Women’s Day: ‘Life is good.’

By Cristina DC Pastor

She is still working at the NYU Langone Medical Center but in another department.

She still lives in her Secaucus, New Jersey home with her husband Judith (yes, the girl’s name) and children Jude and Michelle, their home for the last 22 years.

She still looks back with overflowing pride at the time she had a front row seat at the State of the Union, with first lady Michelle Obama next to her and President Obama praising her heroism during superstorm Sandy.

Except for her disappointment at staff changes at her previous position as pediatric transport coordinator, Menchu is doing fine, thank you. She has met a lot of extraordinary people and regular folks; won a stream of awards and recognition from the Filipino American community and non-Filipino organizations; and has remained one with her Faith and her family, ever gracious and giggly like she has always been.

“Life is beautiful,” was all Menchu could say when interviewed by The FilAm, laughter trailing her words.

Menchu is the smart-thinking nurse whose resourcefulness and leadership saved 20 babies in PICU when superstorm Sandy plunged New York and New Jersey in darkness. She became the face of the exemplary Filipino health care worker, whose reputation as devoted professionals is known all over the world. She was hailed across the U.S., and celebrated together with other ‘Sandy heroes,’ such as the U.S. Coast Guard, Red Cross volunteers, firefighters and Menchu’s fellow staff at NYU Langone Medical Center. There was immense pride among FilAms to be racially associated with her.

Menchu brought me back to that moment when Sandy winds were howling and her department was in total darkness. At about 8 p.m., she suggested bringing the babies down to the first floor one by one using cellphones to light the way. From there, they could all be transferred to a unit that had electricity.

There was hemming and hawing that her plan would violate hospital protocol. There was concern too that nurses carrying the tiny, intubated babies in their arms would be perilous to the infants’ delicate condition.

“But there is no other way,” she insisted to her superiors.

Finally at around 10 p.m., one of the doctors asked if she was willing to give her idea a try. Menchu stepped up. She was nervous as she held in her arm a 24-week-old infant. Supporting her was a team of nurses and staff who each had a role, carrying the tubes, holding and checking the monitor, making sure the cell phone is lighted, and carrying all sorts of machines. It took a team to carry one baby from the ninth floor down to the first. Of the 20 babies rescued, Menchu carried four.

It was clearly a job for a decisive and focused person.

“Every time we reached a platform, I had to check the baby,” recalled Menchu. “I had to make sure I was holding steady because I couldn’t afford make a mistake.”

After all the babies have been moved out of the pitch-dark unit, she called her husband and learned that their house was flooded. She said, “He said he didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to worry about the house and my patients. He wants me to concentrate.”

Shortly after the euphoria surrounding her heroism, Menchu was told about staffing changes in her unit. She did not like that her position was being affected. She asked to be transferred to the Venous Access Program, citing her exceptional skills inserting intravenous lines in patients. From her previous position as pediatric transport coordinator, she is now a senior nurse clinician. The new position came with a pay cut.

“I was disappointed,” she said. She fought to keep her previous position, citing her experience with babies, but later accepted the transfer telling herself, “OK, it’s a different experience, and I love my job.”

The Quezon province-born Menchu has been with NYU Langone for 20 years. She started in 1994 as a part-time nurse while she was on the staff of St. Vincent’s Hospital. When St. Vincent’s closed in 2010, she became a full-time nurse with NYU Langone.

Meeting the Obamas was one experience she will always cherish. She loved telling the story of how the couple are “such kissers and huggers.”

“When they hug you, you feel their sincerity,” she said.

Or when President Obama mentioned her name and she almost missed it because she was overwhelmed by everything around her, Michelle gently elbowed her. “Siniko ako,” Menchu laughed really hard. “I felt so proud. Gusto kong ipagsigawan na ako ay Pilipino!”

Menchu would later receive a letter from Michelle Obama “thanking me for sharing my life and time with them and for letting the world know what I did.”

At the SOTU, Menchu was seated between Michelle Obama and Jill Biden

At the SOTU, Menchu was seated between Michelle Obama and Jill Biden

With President Obama: ‘Gusto kong ipagsigawan na ako ay Pilipino!’

With President Obama: ‘Gusto kong ipagsigawan na ako ay Pilipino!’

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