Palo Alto paramedics deliver baby on University
Mom in a vehicle has a newborn daughter in 11 minutes
Palo Alto firefighters and paramedics rushed to University Avenue Monday evening to help a patient who was impatient to get her first glimpse of the world.
Members of Palo Alto Fire Station 1 at 301 Alma St. arrived at University Avenue, 100 yards east of Middlefield Road, at 6:23 p.m. to find the woman on her hands and knees in the passenger seat of the family Chevrolet Suburban.
Family members were supporting the woman, who had gone into labor on Sunday night and whose water had broken 15 minutes before the units arrived, fire Battalion Chief Niles Broussard said Wednesday. The family was driving the woman to the hospital when they realized the birth was imminent, so they called for help, Broussard said.
Paramedics Sunny Johnson-Gutter and Stephen Lindsey and fire-engine personnel Jorge Salazar, James Henrickson and Ryan Stoddard saw the baby's head poking out and set up a makeshift delivery room on the scene, Broussard said. The baby girl was born at 6:34 p.m.
Mother and newborn were taken to Stanford Hospital. The baby was delivered without any complications and both were reportedly doing fine, he said.
The birth was Johnson-Gutter's and Lindsey's first deliveries, they said. Johnson-Gutter, who delivered the baby, said police and his colleagues set everything up and made his job easy. It didn't hurt that Lindsey and Salazar, his teachers and mentors, were there, he said.
"It was amazing. I saw her taking her first breath. The whole next day I was beaming, and all day long I was calling everyone I knew," Johnson-Gutter, 34, said.
Delivering a baby on the streets is much different from the clinical or hospital setting, where equipment is set up in advance, Johnson-Gutter and Lindsey said.
"We had three minutes before the baby's head came out. It was great having all hands on deck," Johnson-Gutter said of his colleagues.
He let the father cut the umbilical cord.
"The mom was as calm as can be. She was definitely a trooper," he said.
Johnson-Gutter said he decided six or seven years ago to become a paramedic. He was working as a substitute teacher when a school principal asked him what he wanted to do. He didn't really know.
The principal told him that a representative from the fire service had been talking to the children and an informational meeting on firefighting was coming up. Johnson-Gutter attended.
He signed up as a federal wildland firefighter. A high school classmate with whom he reunited advised him about becoming a firefighter. The classmate told Johnson-Gutter to get as much experience as he could in many aspects of firefighting and that he would be a shoo-in, he said.
The most rewarding part of his job is being a public servant and directly affecting people's lives, he said.
Lindsey, 28, has been a firefighter-paramedic for 4.5 years, but it's something he has always wanted to do since he entered college, he said.
"Since childhood I always wanted to help people. I was active in community service. I ended up studying government, political science and public administration, but I decided something was missing," he said.
The baby's birth "was pretty powerful. It's the first time I did a live birth in the field. In our job you don't often get to watch somebody come into the world," he said.
His favorite part of work is helping people, he said.
"There's no greater job. You get thrown a problem: helping someone get out of a crumpled car, or saving a life by administering CPR, or solving somebody's problem when their house is flooded and they are facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. It's a pretty cool feeling when you help somebody — when you make a difference in somebody's life."
Both men said the girl's birth was a tremendous boost to morale in a job that can be filled with tragedy, pain and the unknown.
"One of the toughest things about being a paramedic is you get very little information about the outcome of the patient. We deal with a lot with the ugly side of things. It's nice to get something positive," Johnson-Gutter said.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.