She now swears allegiance to the American flag, but one could say her act was deeply Filipino. And US President Barack Obama was sufficiently moved. “We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane ‘Sandy’ plunged her hospital into darkness [last October], she wasn’t thinking about how her own home was faring. Her mind was on the 20 precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe,” Obama said in his State of the Union Address last week.
Philippine-born, -bred and -educated, the 56-year-old Sanchez has been working as a registered nurse, that most Filipino of professions, in New York for 25 years. When the superstorm knocked the power out at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, where she has been working since 2010, Sanchez was unafraid for herself and instead worried about the 20 at-risk infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.
She swiftly devised a plan to transfer the babies to other intensive care units, rallying the physicians and nurses to the enterprise. She knew that the power outage would endanger the lives of the babies once the backup generators gave out and the ventilators ceased working. “We knew immediately we had to get the babies downstairs,” she recalled. “With the elevators out, we didn’t have a lot of choices.”
Using their mobile phones to light their way, doctors and nurses each descended eight flights of stairs with a baby cradled in a warming pan in their arms, while on the ground, ambulances waited to whisk the babies away to other hospitals. They did this four times until all the infants had been safely evacuated. Sanchez herself carried the first baby down and supervised the operation even as in Secaucus, New Jersey, her own home was being flooded.
Brave, selfless and quick-thinking, Sanchez does the Filipino and American peoples proud.
When one thinks about Filipinos’ abiding love for children, it becomes easy to be shocked when one finds out that so many abandoned children and foundlings languish unknown in the various social welfare institutions nationwide. Last year alone saw some 500 children declared legally available for adoption, yet only 62 of them were adopted by Filipino families, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Quite timely then is the commemoration of Adoption Consciousness Week on Feb. 18-24, with the theme “Love sees beyond differences.” Having evolved from 1999’s Proclamation No. 72, Adoption Consciousness Week is being promoted by the DSWD, the Inter-Country Adoption Board, and McCann Philippines to change the way Filipinos view adoptions and promote the government’s legal adoption program.
“There are so many children in orphanages and other child-caring agencies waiting to be adopted. But families hold back on adoption because of its stigma,” Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said at the program launch.
With so many babies and children desperately needing a home, the DSWD is reminding Filipinos that even solo parents may also legally adopt a child (the vast majority of applications for adoptions are from couples). The agency is earnestly trying to correct misconceptions about the legal adoption process, including the prevalent view that it is a long, costly and complex process. The process, the DSWD points out, is actually necessary, meticulous, but not really complicated.
Each child adopted is a life saved. Each successful adoption means a home found. In a statement, Soliman recently called on mothers who cannot properly care for their biological children to give these kids up for adoption instead of offering them for sale, a crime in violation of RA 8552, or An Act Establishing the Rules and Policies on the Domestic Adoption of Filipino Children.
“We have long sought to undertake a communications campaign to give a new, more relevant perspective to legal adoption,” Soliman said. Adoption Consciousness Week reminds us that there are many children out there in need of a loving home, and that many of us in our own country can play a part in helping them. It will also be some form of rescue, an intervention for the welfare and protection of the young, just as Menchu Sanchez, in devotion to her sworn duties as a nurse, did her part in a country an ocean away.