Power Outages Are Increasing. Can Medical Equipment Users Adapt?

BY CHARLOTTE HUFF: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Millions of Americans rely on electricity to power their medical equipment. What happens when the power goes out?

David Taylor, who has muscular dystrophy, relies on a ventilator to live. During the power outages across Texas in February, he had to be transported to a hospital before his ventilator’s backup battery ran out. |

FOR FOUR DECADES, David Taylor has relied on a ventilator to breathe, the whoosh, whoosh of the machine part of the background metronome of daily life. Then, on the night of Feb. 14, an Arctic blast began to overwhelm the Texas power grid. The next morning, the electricity flickered out in the Fort Worth home that the 65-year-old shares with his mother.

David’s ventilator switched over at some point to a backup battery and kept running. A family member brought over a generator and spent several hours trying, unsuccessfully, to get it working in the sub-freezing air. By nightfall, the one-story house had gone around 12 hours without power, other than an hour or so when the lights briefly turned on, recalled David’s 89-year-old mother, Dorothy Taylor. The temperature inside had dropped to the low 50s. David, who has muscular dystrophy, remained in bed beneath a pile of blankets. Dorothy kept one eye on the clock, unsure how much longer her son’s backup battery would hold out. “I couldn’t wait ’til the last minute,” she said. “He would die within minutes.”

Across Texas, other families were facing similar dilemmas. The ambulance provider MedStar, which serves the greater Fort Worth area, fielded more than 50 calls — including Dorothy’s — from Feb. 15 to Feb. 17 involving patients with life-sustaining medical devices and no power. A San Antonio emergency room doctor, Ralph Riviello, told Undark that around 18 to 24 people showed up at his hospital during the crisis, desperate to recharge medical equipment. Near Houston, a 75-year-old man froze to death in his truck; his family believes he ventured out to get a spare oxygen tank from the vehicle after losing electricity at his home.

These are not just one-off tragedies. Some experts warn that complex home-based medical care is on a collision course with climate change, as severe weather events become more frequent nationwide.

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