KAREN CIMMS/TIMES NEWS Members of the Walton family of Albrightsville, expressed their gratitude recently to paramedic Robert Bernabucci and EMT Kate McGinley, of Lehighton Ambulance Association. The pair delivered the Walton's son Andrew on the way to the hospital in the ambulance last month. From left, Bernabucci, Rebecca Walton, newborn son Andrew, daughter Brianna, Ron Walton, and McGinley. The ambulance rig in the background is the same one in which Andrew was born.
Andrew Michael Walton knows how to make an entrance.
A month early and miles from a hospital, Andrew made his debut in an ambulance on an Allentown street corner, into the waiting arms of who his mother calls their "guardian angels" an EMT and paramedic with Lehighton Ambulance.
Andrew's birth may have been quick, but complications could have been life-threatening.
April 21 started out like any other day for Rebecca Walton of Albrightsville.
Expecting her second child, she knew she would not go full term due to health concerns and problems with her first pregnancy.
Just 36 weeks into the pregnancy, her plans for an induced delivery changed in an instant when she found herself in labor a month prematurely and 45 minutes away from the delivery room.
"I felt great at work," says Rebecca, a pharmacy technician. "I was talking to the pharmacist about how I was going to see my doctor on Wednesday, and I was hoping that he would schedule an induction date for May 4."
At her prior checkup, she had been three centimeters dilated, but her doctor said she could go weeks like that and not deliver. Her stress test looked good and she wasn't having any contractions. The baby was also moving a lot. Typically, when birth is imminent, fetal movement is greatly reduced.
As with her first baby, Rebecca developed gestational diabetes. Her labor with Brianna, who is now 4, was induced two weeks early because the baby was getting too big, which is often a concern with gestational diabetes.
"I was hoping the same would happen with Andrew," she said, "but that was not the case."
Rebecca returned home from work that evening around 9:30, and poured herself a bowl of cereal. When she got up from the table, she knew something was amiss. She told her mother, who lives with Rebecca and her husband Ron, that she thought her water may have broken. Within minutes, she was certain. The contractions weren't far behind.
Ron, who had fallen asleep while putting Brianna to bed, came racing to his wife's side, prepared to drive her to the hospital. But Rebecca's mother, Lucile Giedt, begged her to call for an ambulance. Lucile had delivered her second child soon after her water broke, and said Rebecca's grandmother had experienced the same thing. She was certain Rebecca would not make it to the hospital.
Facing a long ride to St. Luke's Hospital in Allentown and contractions that were growing closer together and more painful, Rebecca agreed and Ron dialed 911. As he got ready to head to the hospital, Rebecca's mother gave updates to the Carbon County 911 dispatcher. At the suggestion of the security detail at the Walton's Towamensing Trails development, Ron drove Rebecca to the entrance to await the ambulance.
On duty that night was emergency medical technician Kate McGinley and paramedic Robert Bernabucci, of the ambulance association's Penn Forest station, who arrived around 10:30 p.m.
As McGinley and Bernabucci raced to meet up with the Waltons, they were being fed information from Carbon County dispatch. McGinley thought it was likely that delivery would be imminent, and they would not reach the hospital in time.
"I figured this would happen," says McGinley, "but I hoped it wouldn't."
Although she has been an EMT for six years, it would be her first delivery.
"I felt confident that my partner would be able to provide great care and treatment," says Bernabucci, who has delivered three babies, including Andrew.
Rebecca climbed into the ambulance, while Ron made his way in his vehicle to the turnpike entrance in Lehighton. He was unable to follow the ambulance, as it was able to enter the turnpike from Route 903 via an emergency access.
It was hard for Ron, not knowing what was happening, and he remembers being very concerned about Rebecca, who had hemorrhaged badly after delivering their first child.
As Bernabucci guided the ambulance toward the turnpike, McGinley checked Rebecca's vital signs and monitored her contractions.
"They seemed like they were every 30 seconds or so," says Rebecca. "As soon as one ended, another one started. I was in a lot of pain. Kate was really great at helping me breathe through the contractions and she gave me some oxygen to help as well. I felt like I was going to pass out, the pain was so bad."
Rebecca remembers asking McGinley if they were going to make it to the hospital.
"I hope so," McGinley answered, asking Bernabucci to hurry.
"As I drove, I kept checking on how the patient and my partner were doing," recalls Bernabucci.
While the ambulance is suitable for delivery, and the EMT's and paramedics are highly trained, a vehicle racing down the highway is not the optimum place to give birth.
"You want to make sure the baby and mom are in the best environment possible, and the back of a truck isn't the most conducive environment to having a baby, but when the baby is ready to come, you have to make do," says McGinley.
Andrew was ready.
McGinley kept monitoring Rebecca, and checked her several times during the trip. Not too long after exiting the turnpike, Rebecca had a strong urge to push.
"I had Bob pull over," McGinley said, "and I straddled the litter and had her put her feet up on my knees so that I could check her." She saw that the baby's head was crowning.
Bernabucci climbed in the back of the ambulance, and while McGinley was holding the baby's head, he checked to see if there were any problems, and to make sure the umbilical cord was not wrapped around the baby's neck.
"Bob got in back and had her push," says McGinley. "A couple pushes later, we had a baby."
With just four pushes, Andrew Michael Walton arrived a 11:10 p.m., right there on the corner of Route 309 and Tilghman Street.
"I checked the baby, suctioned him and tried to stimulate him to get him to cry," says McGinley. "He had a very weak cry at first. He was initially blue. We cut the cord, wrapped him in a blanket and gave him to his mom to hang onto."
Bernabucci got back behind the wheel, and they continued on their way to the hospital, but Rebecca and Andrew were not out of the woods yet.
"He wasn't crying, and I kept asking if he was OK," remembers Rebecca. "Kate said he was fine; he was breathing; but I wanted to hear him cry. He looked purple to me."
McGinley kept checking mother and baby, as Andrew's color was not good and Rebecca had yet to deliver the placenta.
About three to five minutes from the hospital, Rebecca started to bleed heavily.
"I had to control the bleeding and keep giving oxygen to the baby and keep him crying to make sure he was OK," says McGinley. "He was still blue."
Rebecca remembers McGinley calling out to Bernabucci to "Step on it!"
"I was bleeding a lot and I was afraid I was going to hemorrhage again," recalls Rebecca.
When they arrived at the hospital, McGinley said she breathed a sigh of relief as they transferred mother and baby over to the waiting obstetrics staff, that tended to the rest of Rebecca's needs, and were able to stop the bleeding.
When Ron entered the hospital, he told the people at the front desk that his wife had been rushed there in an ambulance. They directed him to the third floor and said she was in Room 320.
On his way there, he ran into Bernabucci.
"Bob said, '23:10. You're too late.' I thought he was talking about the room number and I thought I was heading to the wrong room," Ron recalls.
Bernabucci was actually telling him that he missed the delivery, and that his son had been born at 23:10 military time.
Although he missed it all, Ron was thankful and relieved to learn everything had turned out all right, and that he had a new, healthy son waiting to meet him.
"I was overjoyed. Happiness, shock, words can't describe it," says Ron. "I was relieved knowing that everything was OK."
Bernabucci and McGinley stopped in to visit the Waltons before leaving the hospital,
"The baby was pink and crying, the bleeding had stopped. It was a big relief to know everyone had turned out OK," says McGinley.
"I told them 'thank you.' I am so thankful that my mom had my husband dial 911. I can't imagine being on the side of the turnpike with my husband trying to deliver a baby," says Rebecca.
"I think they were awesome," says Rebecca, calling McGinley and Bernabucci her guardian angels. "Kate was real supportive. She was holding my hand and telling me it would be OK. They were very professional.
"If it weren't for Kate and Bob, my beautiful son may not have survived, since my husband has no medical training in delivering a baby," says Rebecca. "I am very thankful to them and I am glad they had enough training to know what to do."