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Alaska dispatcher talks couple through home birth

The dispatcher had taken a course in dealing with just this situation at a national conference

By Zaz Hollander
Anchorage Daily News

WASILLA, Alaska — The man on the other end of the 911 line was calm but urgent.

His wife was having a baby. In the bathroom.

Palmer-based public safety dispatcher Amber Church fielded the call.

"He said that his wife was in labor," Church said. "Immediately, your heartbeat kind of goes a little faster. It was a little nerve-wracking."

It was just after 4 a.m. Sunday. Anthony Holt and his wife, Jole, were about to have their third child at home, like it or not.

The Holts were sleeping when Jole woke up at 3 a.m. with labor pains. A nurse told her to rest, Anthony Holt said. An hour later, Holt was calling 911 and talking to Church.

The certified emergency medical dispatcher had taken a course in dealing with just this situation at a national conference. She read Holt instructions from an automated card on her computer screen: how to help deliver a baby before medics arrive. Another dispatcher called for medics and handled other cases so Church could stay on the phone.

Church read Holt the part about making sure the baby's head doesn't come out too fast.

Too late. The little boy slid out into his father's hands. It was 4:08 a.m. -- two minutes into the call, according to Alaina Anderson, the dispatch supervisor at the Palmer center.

So Church bypassed the "delivering the baby" protocol on her computer.

"She went immediately to dry and wrap the baby," Anderson said.

That's when Church heard the baby's mother say he wasn't breathing. Anthony Holt told his wife to give him a good pat on his bottom.

Church heard the baby start to cry.

Then the dispatcher, still following protocol, told Holt to put the baby on mom and tie a shoelace around the umbilical cord, six inches from the baby. Done.

"He was so cooperative," Church said, of Holt. "You could tell in his voice he was so proud."

Central Mat-Su fire and ambulance crews showed up within 15 minutes, she said. They took the family to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center. Medics phoned Church from the road to tell her what a good job she'd done and let her know the baby was doing fine.

Church and her dispatch partner exchanged high fives and a huge sigh of relief. She called her boyfriend to share the story.

"It was so great. It was amazing," she said. "It was very scary at first -- my fingers were shaking while I was typing but after you find out everything's going to be OK, you get a little choked up."

The Holts named the baby Lawrence Donovan.

They left Mat-Su Regional Tuesday afternoon for their house in the Knik-Goose Bay Road area southwest of Wasilla.

The couple already has two sons, 5 and nearly 2. Jole Holt delivered her oldest son in a water birth assisted by a midwife, Anthony Holt said. The couple rushed to the hospital for the middle son's birth after Holt's water broke in the middle of the night.

"This one, she was only actually in labor for an hour," he said Monday, still sounding a little dazed.

Eleven dispatchers at the Emergency Dispatch Center in the Palmer police station field all police, fire and emergency medical calls coming into the 911 system in the Mat-Su. The center dispatches for Palmer police, 11 fire departments, and 11 ambulance service departments across 25,260 square miles.

Despite all that traffic, it's not often a full-on baby delivery like this one comes up.

The last time Anderson can remember a dispatcher talking a mother-to-be all the way through a delivery was about eight years ago, when a woman delivered a baby girl along the side of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, the busy road between those two cities.

The supervisor listened to a recording of the Sunday morning 911 call and her dispatcher's responses.

"Listening to the radio traffic, it was really joyful," Anderson said.

Palmer's retired ambulance chief, Ulla Stice, heard the whole story unfold as she listened to the early-morning scanner traffic from her home. She was impressed with the speed of Church's response and the dispatch team's professionalism.

The words "imminent birth" really caught her attention and doubtless that of the responding EMS crew, said Stice, a veteran responder who also worked as a Central Mat-Su medic.

So many calls end with sad news, she said. "Those girls were so giddy afterwards. It was adorable. It was so refreshing to hear."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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