Baby arrives during hurricane via C-section by flashlight

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Hurricane Katrina’s awesome power could not keep a baby from making her debut at the medical center here during a cesarean section illuminated by a ring of flashlights.

“Our team delivered a healthy, robust baby girl -- definitely not a shrinking violet,” said Maj. Betsy Majma, a nurse anesthetist. “She came into the world screaming, even before she was fully delivered. Except for the venue and circumstances, it ended up being a routine C-section -- 23 minutes, skin to skin.”

The Aug. 29 birth was coordinated by a team of about 50 medics and support personnel who prepared the makeshift delivery room, conducted the surgery and ensured the health and safety of the mother and child, said Maj. (Dr.) Jaye Adams, supervising physician.

The woman was 39 weeks pregnant and had been scheduled for a repeat C-section Aug. 30. When she began having contractions and her water broke while she sheltered with other expectant mothers at the medical center, the mom and the medical team had decisions to make.

“We couldn’t air-evac her out of here because of the high winds,” Dr. Adams said. “She could have proceeded with a vaginal delivery, but because of her earlier C-section, she had been advised to have the same procedure again. There are certain risks involved with any surgical procedure, even under the best circumstances, and we didn’t have optimal conditions. She opted for the C-section.”

When the medical center’s generators flooded at the height of the storm and left the facility without power, an alternate location for the delivery had to be found. A room in the intensive care unit was chosen.

Unlike the delivery room, the ICU had windows where the afternoon light provided some illumination. The team needed power for the device that is used to cauterize bleeds during surgery, so civil engineers ran a cable from an emergency generator in another room that was being used for another patient’s ventilator.

“We had to push the equipment we needed down the hall from the operating room to ICU -- about 500 feet in the pitch-black darkness,” said Senior Airman Shantra Nuehring, an operating room technician who assisted with the delivery. “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.”

After ICU medics cleared furniture and equipment out of the room, the floor was scrubbed and Airman Nuehring and other technicians cleaned the walls with antiseptic wipes to sanitize the area as much as possible.

Second Lt. Leah Nielson, an obstetrical nurse, was one of the medics who cared for the patient.

“I tried to calm and soothe her anxiety and make sure she understood exactly what we planned to do,” Lieutenant Nielson said. “She was a real trooper. She did everything we asked her to do.”

“The only concern the patient seemed to have was that she felt very exposed in a room with so many windows,” Airman Nuehring said. “We wanted to give her some sense of privacy, so we taped up sheets over some of the windows.”

Capt. (Dr.) Darren Pittard cared for the woman while she was in labor. Two other physicians in Keesler’s residency program, Capts. Andrew Allen and Anna Flinn, were called on to do the C-section.

“The preparations were a carefully coordinated effort,” Major Majma said. “I didn’t do her spinal until everything was checked out and ready. We draped her, prepped her and boom-boom-boom -- they got that little girl out.”

The tiny room was packed with medics for the delivery, some holding industrial flashlights to provide as much illumination as possible. There was not room for the father to be present for the birth, so he waited down the hall with the couple’s other daughter.

The darkness, heat, humidity and lack of ventilation presented significant challenges to everyone involved.

“It was so humid that our charting paper felt like damp toilet paper and started falling apart,” Lieutenant Nielson said.

“We kept fanning the patient to try to keep her cool under the heavy drapes,” Major Majma said. “Some people felt faint and nauseous. Afterward, we were all totally saturated -- underclothes and overclothes.”

“We were astounded that there was no sign of infection after the delivery,” Lieutenant Nielson said. “We gave the mom plenty of antibiotics and she never spiked a temperature.”

“Considering the circumstances and the challenges of the delivery, I’m really proud of the level of care our team was able to provide,” Dr. Adams said. “I’ve been involved in more than a thousand deliveries during my medical career, and this is definitely one I’ll never forget.”