Why A Florida Fertility Doctor Is Braving Irma To Save His Patients' Future Families

by Morgan Brinlee

When a powerful hurricane is headed toward you, many choose to get out of the way. But for one fertility doctor in Miami-Dade County, Florida, evacuating ahead of Hurricane Irma's expected arrival would mean abandoning the numerous eggs, sperm, and embryos that represent the hopes and dreams of his patients. And that just isn't an option. Board-certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist Dr. Armando Hernandez-Rey has refused to evacuate, the Huffington Post reports, choosing instead to stay and ensure the safety of specimens stored in his Coral Gables clinic, and, quite possibly, his patients' future children.

The National Hurricane Center said Friday that Irma was expected to remain "a powerful Category 4 hurricane" as it approaches Florida, where it "is likely to make landfall" sometime late this weekend. Miami-Dade County officials announced the area's first mandatory evacuation in 12 years Wednesday, ordering residents in multiple zones to leave the area as Hurricane Irma threatened to bring severe flooding. On Thursday, county officials expanded the evacuation order to include more than 650,000 people in total, according to the Miami Herald.

"We haven't had a big hurricane here in South Florida for over 12 years," Hernandez-Rey told the Huffington Post. "We've had skirmishes, if you will, but nothing like this."

But despite the danger, Hernandez-Rey has no plans to evacuate the area as officials have ordered. "In my practice, we've got a lot of things that can potentially go wrong," he said.

According to Hernandez-Rey, a number of the samples stored at his clinic belong to patients that would have no other chance of having a biological child if their sample was to be destroyed. Unfortunately, Hernandez-Rey had been unable to transfer many of the samples stored regularly at his clinic, Conceptions Florida, to holding centers outside of the storm's projected reach because of how fast Hurricane Irma was moving, according to the Huffington Post report. Still, Hernandez-Rey remains optimistic about his ability to shelter in place and protect his patients' valuable specimens.

"We've got a $150,000 generator in the building, our building is built like Fort Knox, we've topped off all the tanks with liquid nitrogen. So even if we lose the generator, we've got enough liquid nitrogen [to keep all frozen specimens viable] for two weeks," he said. According to Hernandez-Rey, the clinic resides in a building that has hurricane-impact windows and he is well-stocked with sandbags.

For those struggling to conceive, in vitro fertilization is one of a few ways medical science can assist with the conception of a child. According to Forbes, more than 85,000 women undergo IVF annually in the United States. However, the procedure is known to be invasive, fairly expensive, and not often covered by health insurance. In the United States, a single round of IVF can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000 and most require more than one round to conceive. As such, it might be fair to say the samples Hernandez-Rey is risking his life to protect are priceless to the patients to whom they belong.

The Huffington Post reported Hernandez-Rey was taking some precautions, such as moving himself and his family into a hotel close to the clinic to ride out the storm. "Every hotel since Hurricane Andrew has to have hurricane-impact windows," he told the news outlet. "The structures are different now. So it's not bravado. I think we're going to be OK. I think the city's going to be in shambles. But I've got to protect what’s in the tanks."

But Hernandez-Rey isn't oblivious to the dangers and risk of staying behind. "Anything can happen," he said, adding he was "cautiously optimistic" he was making the right decision. "I just didn't feel comfortable leaving with the possibility that something could go wrong."