May 15, paramedics Katie Hind and Alisha Wiltse received a call from radio dispatch that a woman in Fairplay was having contractions a minute apart and might be only 28 weeks along in her pregnancy.
Having been trained in a variety of scenarios, en route to the house, partners Wiltse and Hind were already planning for the possibility that this could be a premature baby. Knowing that preemies need special hospital care upon delivery, they called the Life Flight helicopter to fly her to the hospital.
There was no helicopter available due to bad weather (not uncommon in Park County). Wiltse and Hind arrived at the house to find their patient lying on the floor and in lots of pain.
“I’ve had four children and based on my training and my own experience, I could tell that delivery was imminent,” said Wiltse.
The paramedic partners knew they had to get their patient to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. In addition, they quickly assessed the need for two paramedics to be in the back of the ambulance, one for the mom and one for the baby, who appeared ready to kick and punch his way into the world, hospital or not.
The NorthWest Fire Protection District firefighters carried the mom into the ambulance and one of the firefighters began the drive over the continental divide headed to Summit Medical Center in Frisco.
Wiltse and Hind then drew upon their training and experience with labor and delivery. It was not clear if the patient’s water had yet broken. They instructed the mom not to push when leaving Fairplay, but by the time they got through a few mountain turns and bumpy potholes, they coached the mom to breathe through ever shortening contractions.
By the time the ambulance reached 10,578 feet in Alma, the baby’s head popped into view. The mom continued pushing and breathing up and over Hoosier Pass. Right before the ambulance and team got to Blue River, paramedic Wiltse caught the newborn baby boy.
“He was not crying at first so we did aggressive stimulation and provided suction for the airway,” said Wiltse.
The baby then started crying. He was a full term healthy baby boy.
With two separate patients now in the ambulance, Wiltse monitored the baby and Hind took care of the mom, who appeared to be somewhat in shock, as she had expected to give birth later in the year.
“I called ahead to the hospital, explained the situation and asked them to have a neonatal team ready for our arrival,” said Hind.
This was the first time Hind and Wiltse delivered a baby in an ambulance.
“We are trained in labor and delivery in a hospital setting, but that is a very controlled environment,” said Wiltse.
On this call, Wiltse and Hind had to think quickly, assess the situation, make split second critical decisions, coach the mom through delivery, catch the newborn baby and care for both patients over a winding, bumpy continental divide mountain pass.
Thanks to the collaboration with NorthWest Fire Protection District and the skills of team Wiltse and Hind, mom and baby are doing well.
Was this the first time that a team from South Park Ambulance delivered a baby en route? No. Approximately 25 years ago, Fire Chief Paul Mattson also caught a baby at the top of Hoosier Pass.
“It is not common for babies to be born in an ambulance,” said Chief Mattson. “It’s not easy. There are cramped quarters and you are moving down the road. The one that I delivered was a premature baby, quite teeny. He came out feet first with the cord wrapped around his neck. We have training in school about weird situations that might happen and that we most likely will never see. This situation had everything.”
Statistics are not readily available about the numbers of babies born on the way to the hospital and their results. The Flume found one.
“I was born in an ambulance on the way from my house to the hospital,” said Colorado resident Garrison Zollinger. Zollinger is now in his 30s and has a successful career in logistics and transportation. One wonders if his ambulance birth gave him a competitive advantage in this field.
Cardiac arrest on Front Street
Dynamic duo Hind and Wiltse, when not catching babies aboard a bumpy ambulance, also respond to other calls. Just a few weeks ago they arrived on Front Street to find a patient in full cardiac arrest. He had collapsed in a doorway. His heart had stopped and he had no pulse for one minute, until the actions of the SPA paramedics got his heart jumping with life-saving techniques that included manual CPR, medication and use of the defibrillator.
The Life Flight helicopter was not available due to bad weather conditions. The NWFPD team was also on the scene and quickly scooped the patient into the ambulance.
The heart patient, with the assistance of the SPA team, made it to the hospital and is now fully recovered.
“We deal with a lot of cardiac events up here of varying severity,” said Chief Mattson. “I’m thinking that is partly because of the huge distances that we cover. We encourage people to call early on when they are having a problem. Delay is the biggest problem. If someone has issues for a few days or a few hours, waiting compromises the heart’s ability to survive.”
“Most people don’t understand that being a paramedic or emergency medical technician is difficult to begin with and since we are a frontier environment, it is even more complicated. We have been fortunate that the majority of our crew have a lot of experience and are looking for the challenges available in frontier medicine,” said Mattson. “Providing emergency medical care is truly a lot of hard work. In this recent case of baby delivery, the paramedics were working hard and were responsible for the mother’s life and the life of the baby.”
Paramedics Hind and Wiltse
Alisha Wiltse, SPA paramedic, has worked in the emergency medical field for 20 years, 10 of those as a paramedic.
Katie Hind, SPA paramedic, has worked in the emergency medical field for 13 years.
“Expect the unexpected,” said Hind as she summed up a day in the life of a paramedic in Park County.
From all of us at The Flume, to Alisha Wiltse, Katie Hind, and NorthWest Fire Protection District: Thank you. We know we all are in good hands should the need arise.