BY BILL BROWN
It was a “code stork,” That, says Jason Peckenpaugh, is what EMTs call it when an ambulance goes out to pick up a mother in labor, but returns with a mother and newborn.
Harriet Martin Peckenpaugh was born January 25, 2017 on Westmoreland Avenue, Takoma Park. On her way to the hospital maternity room her mom Nancy Glass only got as far as the Prius passenger seat before Harriet arrived. The Prius was in the driveway.
They did not plan on a home birth. And though they were trying to shorten the labor time – Nancy’s previous child came after a 46 hour labor – this was far shorter than anticipated.
At 6:40 p.m. Glass knew she needed to get to the hospital immediately. They planned to have the baby with midwife assistance at Washington Hospital Center, Washington DC.
They had another urgent problem – they needed immediate care for their older child Annabelle, who will be three in March. They could not wait the 20-25 minutes it would take Nancy’s mother to get there.
Their child-care Plan B was their immediate neighbor Savanna Moore, but she was in Silver Spring. Plan C was another neighbor Jess Isaacs, but they couldn’t reach her by phone.
They were out of backups and Nancy could tell she was nearly out of time.
Jason glanced out the window and saw that neighbors Bob and Elise Ligouri’s lights were on. He hoisted Annabelle into his arms and ran across the street to ask Elise if she would take care of her for a while.
Jason returned to the house, grabbed the couple’s pre-packed suitcases and ran for the car as he dialed 911 on his flip-phone (“I’m not technological”) for assistance.
Jason said “Things were moving too quickly.”
As can happen with cell phone calls to 911, his the call was directed according to where the cell-tower, not the called, was located. He was first connected to the wrong jurisdiction. Jason said the call was redirected at least once more before he got the Takoma Park Police. He had to repeat his address to each dispatcher, heightening the tension in the Prius.
Jason described the situation to the final dispatcher who told him to abandon the plan of driving to the hospital. An ambulance was on the way, but, said Jason, the dispatcher told him “you’ve got to deliver this baby!.”
Via his flip-phone’s speaker – a feature he had never previously used – he took instructions from the county dispatcher.
The dispatcher talked him through it. “She’s all I had in the way of professional help,” said Jason.
As directed, Jason got towels and lowered the car seats to give Nancy plenty of room.
At that point David and Lauryn Marcus of Orchard Avenue, out for a walk with their seven-month old daughter Josephine, noticed the commotion and offered to help. Jason pressed his phone into David’s hand, asking him to hold it for him while he followed the dispatcher’s instructions.
Lauryn got the ambulance’s attention. It was approaching somewhat slowly down Westmoreland, searching for the address.
The ambulance pulled up just after the baby’s head emerged. The EMTs took over, “catching” the baby around 7:10 p.m. It was expertly done, said Jason, but the EMT who caught Harriet later admitted it was the first time he’d assisted a delivery. The ambulance crew whisked mother, father and newborn to the Washington Hospital Center where they made a more sensational entrance than originally expected.
Jason and Nancy got the impression that “code storks” are not routine. As they were processed through the emergency room “everyone stopped and looked at us.”
Back home Annabelle was well taken care of. Neighbor Jess, who rushed over when she noticed the missed calls from Jason, arrived as the ambulance left. Then, neighbor Savannah and Nancy’s mom arrived. Nancy and Jason were pleased with how their neighbors and community stepped up for them.
The couple joked that the hospital bill “still managed to change for a baby WE delivered.”