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Invalid New Yorker’s Pals Keep Life-Saving Gear Running

October 31, 2012

For Nick Dupree, losing power in Sandy’s fury quickly became a matter of life and death.

The 30-year-old lower Manhattan resident survives only with the help of a mechanical ventilator. Even moving the bed-ridden Dupree may endanger his health, according to Alejandra Ospina, 32, his wheelchair-bound partner.

Since the storm cut electric service to his Duane Street building two blocks from City Hall, Dupree and Ospina have relied on their friends and firefighters to supply him with ventilator batteries, and bring food and water to their 12th- floor apartment. Consolidated Edison Inc. (ED:US), the utility serving New York, has said restoring power in the area may take days.

“It’s mission-critical that he’s ventilated -- he can’t breathe on his own,” Ospina said.

“There’s no water, no phone,” Ospina told a reporter visiting the apartment yesterday. Dupree lay in a bed, hooked to a phalanx of tubes, machines and oxygen tanks. He communicated in a barely audible burble. An activist from Mobile, Alabama, he has sought to help the chronically ill obtain health care, Ospina said. She said he has mitochondrial myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy.

For those with disabilities like herself and Dupree, there are no quick ways to find help before or during events such as storms and blackouts, Ospina said. When they ask, “what are my resources in an emergency? The default answer is -- call 911,” she said.

Firefighters, Friends

Since Sandy swept through Oct. 29, city firefighters have been charging batteries for the ventilator and bringing them up the 12 floors when needed. Visitors are also helping, including Ray Wofsy, 29, a high-school social worker.

A friend of a friend told him Dupree needed a hand, Wofsy said as he carried a recharged battery up the narrow, unlit emergency staircase.

“We just wanted to help people after the storm,” Wofsy said.

A connection to a portable generator in the fire house across the street, or to one placed by the building, would keep the ventilator working, Ospina said. That would require an extension cord as long as 200 feet (61 meters). Such a link would go far toward helping Dupree make do until the electricity is restored, Ospina said.

“With power,” she said, “we can provide the care here.”

Dupree and Ospina were warned before the storm hit that they would probably lose power because of Sandy, according to Joanna Rose, a spokeswoman for Related Co., the building manager. She said the building lacks an auxiliary generator.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter S. Green in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman in New York at

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