RUTLEDGE – Four EMS employees were recognized Friday, April 21 for their efforts in saving the lives of a mother and her baby after the child was born.
E-911 dispatcher Jessica Nicely, EMT Ashley Harmon and paramedics Jim “Grimace” Saylor and Sean Austin were presented with certificates of appreciation for “outstanding performance and excellent patient care” by the University of Tennessee Medical Center, Emergency & Trauma Center and the Center for Women & Infants.
Saylor said the call came in at around 6 a.m. one morning in November, but the baby wasn’t due until March 15.
“It was a busy morning that morning, and usually our mornings are not busy,” Saylor said.
It was the end of the 24-hour shift and both the Rutledge and Bean Station ambulances were out on calls when the Blaine ambulance Saylor works on was called to respond to a crash scene in Bean Station. Around the same time, the Washburn ambulance received the call to respond to the scene for a woman in active labor.
The birth was premature, and both mom and baby needed medical assistance. Harmon and Austin were stationed in Washburn when the call came in. Austin said when they arrived on the scene he knew it was more than he could handle, that things were not going to be very easy. Both patients were not stable, he said. The placenta had not been delivered, and there was a possibility the mom could bleed out, he said.
Another child, a toddler, was also on the scene when they arrived. The dad arrived home shortly after they arrived on the scene. Austin said he put the dad to work helping Harmon with carrying equipment and getting the mom out to the ambulance while Austin focused on the baby.
The scene was chaotic, Austin said.
An off-duty EMT who is also a volunteer firefighter in Washburn had responded to the scene and began helping as much as he could, joining Austin in the ambulance to assist with basic lifesaving skills as Austin went back and forth between the mom and the baby.
Austin said once they were in the ambulance he told Harmon they needed to go to UT Hospital or Ft. Sanders. He said he didn’t want to separate the mom and baby and those were the only two hospitals they could be taken to without being separated.
With only one paramedic onboard to treat two patients, the Washburn crew called for assistance from another ambulance crew, but none were available. Austin said they called Union County and there was no one available to assist. They tried calling AMR (American Medical Response) for assistance but that organization also had no one available. Their next call was to the Rural Metro fire department on Rutledge Pike, which has paramedics on staff, so they were called and requested to meet the Washburn ambulance on the highway as they traveled from Washburn.
In the meantime, the Blaine ambulance was released from the Bean Station call after fire department members arrived on the scene and advised they were not needed.
Saylor said they met the Washburn ambulance on the highway in Luttrell near the mines and he got into the ambulance to assist.
Saylor got into the back of the ambulance and observed they were doing CPR on the baby, whose heart rate was low and who wasn’t breathing.
“Nothing was going good at all,” Saylor said. “The only option at that point in time was to get an airway – to stick a tube down the baby’s throat to get a secure airway.”
He said it is risky, particularly with a baby who is so small, to use a RBVM, which is just a mask and a bag, a lot of the air will go into the stomach because the air can’t be directed.
Saylor began the process of intubation on the two pound, four ounce baby who was only 14 inches long.
Saylor said there is nothing they do to train for that.
“Usually at 25 weeks you don’t figure that a baby is going to be survivable at that point in time,” he said.
Their best figure for the baby’s age was “day one of week 26 of gestation,” Saylor said.
He said the airway was so small that the smallest blade they had to intubate with didn’t hardly fit inside the baby’s mouth to be able to see to stick the tube down inside.
“We don’t carry hardly anything for something that small,” Austin said. “I’ve done this 23 years and that is the first time I’ve had that young of one we’ve actually worked. It’s either they’ve not been viable or they’ve been stillborn or something like that. Or, it’s usually six to eight weeks premature or something like that.”
Saylor said he told everyone to just pray.
“By the grace of God everything lined up and I could see the vocal cords and got to go in and stuck a tube in that kid and immediately when we started breathing for the kid the heart rate came up, O2 sats came up, everything just lined out great,” Saylor said.
He said he gave the tiniest breaths he ever gave in his life for the next 45 minutes. He said the lungs are so delicate in a baby that small that a fraction too much pressure could pop one of the baby’s lungs.
The only thing that gave Saylor hope as they responded was that dispatchers had said the mom had given birth and the baby was crying.
“At 26 weeks, that information was a complete game changer because the likelihood of that child living through that, that far out for the hospital was very little,” he said.
“The biggest thing was the distance and time to a hospital from the time all this started,” Saylor said.
“We were way down Dutch Valley,” Harmon said.
All three agreed, the baby’s survival was really due to the Washburn ambulance being located close enough to keep treatment from being delayed by crucial minutes.
“If the Washburn truck was not there, that kid would have never made it,” Austin said. “If we would have been out on a call, that kid would have never have made it.”
Austin said he didn’t call for an air ambulance not only because of that morning’s rainy weather, but also because of the baby’s delicate state and the pressure changes involved in flight, and the fact they probably wouldn’t have transported the mom and baby together on a helicopter.
EMS Director Mardy Bowen said, “They did a superb job, and I’m proud of all of them.”
Saylor said one of the really cool things for him about the call was, he had watched the babies grow up, having spent time with his parents, when he joined the Bean Station Rescue Squad when Saylor was 15 years old.