A dispatcher with Santa Cruz Regional 9-1-1—the county's central emergency call-taking and dispatch center for police, fire and medical aid—talked a Watsonville man through the home birth of his son a week ago when the man's wife unexpectedly went into labor. The baby boy, the couple's second son, was born before medics and firefighters arrived at their house. Karen Clark, another dispatcher at the center, put together this account of the frantic situation.
It was a 911 hang-up call much like any of the dozens of others that had come into NetCom last Tuesday night.
But when dispatcher Abby Hernandez routinely called back the phone number to make sure everything was OK, what she heard on the other end was anything but routine.
“My wife’s about to have a baby,” a frantic Edgar Sandoval told the Santa Cruz Regional 9-1-1 dispatcher. “We want to run to Sutter, but we don’t know if we’re going to make it”
His wife, Mirtha Padilla, was crying out in the background, hoping against all odds that her baby would wait long enough to be delivered in the hospital. Her due date wasn’t until March 14, but Padilla’s water already had broken, and her contractions were constant.
And Sutter hospital in Santa Cruz was a long way from the couple’s Watsonville home.
Hernandez and her dispatch partner, Anna Kiff, had already alerted fire and ambulance crews about the call, and Hernandez immediately began giving crucial birthing instructions to Sandoval.
The first thing she had to do was convince the couple not to try to drive themselves to the hospital, and then—using the Emergency Medical Dispatch protocols she had been trained to provide—Hernandez told Sandoval to get his reluctant wife to lie down and prepare for the birth of what was to be their second child. Hernandez had never helped deliver a baby before in her nearly 9-year dispatch career.
Seconds later, Sandoval told the dispatcher, “I can see the head now.”
“You’re doing great, hon,” reassured Hernandez. “Remember, the baby will be slippery, so don’t drop it.”
A still nervous Sandoval indicated they still wanted to delay the birth at least until paramedic crews arrived, but Hernandez emphasized that they must “not prevent the birth … I can help you.”
And just seconds later, Sandoval reported, “I’ve got the baby, I’ve got the baby.”
“Is it a boy or a girl?” asked Hernandez.
“It’s a boy,” said Sandoval, looking at his son, Diego Angel Sandoval, for the first time.
“He was very slippery, so I brought him close to my chest so he would be right there and not slip,” said Sandoval. “I had no clue what to do, because I had never done it before. I’m so glad the dispatcher had called back. She helped keep things calm.”
At that point, Watsonville police officer Corey Johnston arrived to assist the couple. He beat fire and ambulance crews to the scene, but not Diego, who was determined to make an entrance at home.
Hernandez was still giving medical instructions to the mom and dad, telling them to keep the baby warm and explaining how to tie off the umbilical cord. But Sandoval was getting nervous again. He wasn’t sure the baby was still breathing, because he had stopped crying.
Officer Johnston, though, was rubbing the baby’s chest and got on the phone with Hernandez to reassure her that the baby was breathing. He also sent Sandoval off in search of something to tie off the cord.
As is protocol, Hernandez had told them to use a string or shoelace. Sandoval couldn’t find either one, so he improvised and grabbed a pack of dental floss. That’s what Johnston used to tie the cord. It not only worked fine, but it brought a lot of joy later to the nurses at the hospital, who had never seen it done before.
By the time paramedics arrived, mom and baby were doing just fine.
At the 911 center near DeLaveaga Golf Course in Santa Cruz, more than a few of the dispatchers—including Hernandez and Kiff—had happy tears in their eyes.
“I honestly thought the medics would be there to deliver the baby,” said Hernandez. “But it happened so fast. The baby was there within minutes. … I just used the protocols and kept working to get their attention so I could know exactly what was going on.”
Hernandez’s work earned praise from her supervisor.
“Abby’s ability to remain calm during an emotional situation let her provide clear and valuable instructions to the family,” said Stephanie Zube, one of the center’s operations supervisors. “Abby was really taking care of all three people at the house.”
Driving home from work Tuesday night and still on Cloud 9, Hernandez decided she would send a teddy bear and balloon to the family at the hospital the next day. It was then that she discovered she had a long-forgotten connection to the family: Mirtha Padilla had been best friends with Hernandez’s sister, Judy Hernandez Guzman, all through grade school.
“My sister couldn’t believe it,” said Hernandez. “She said, ‘What are the odds that you would take the call, help her deliver the baby, and then to find out you knew her from when you were a kid in Watsonville?’”
Hernandez decided to call Padilla at the hospital.
“I truly felt like a hero for the first time in my job,” said Hernandez. “I felt a connection, a bond with the family, even before I found out I knew Mirtha. … When I talked to her, I told her who I was, and what an honor and a privilege it was to help deliver their child.”
Making the call to Padilla from the NetCom parking lot on Wednesday morning, Hernandez told the new mother and old friend, “I just want you to know what this means to me. It’s life changing. It’s an honor.”
Scotty Douglass, general manager of the Santa Cruz Regional 9-1-1 Center, praised Hernandez’s work.
“Emergency Medical Dispatch is a function that dispatchers do every day in our county, providing support as the first, first responders,” said Douglass. “This is an example of the extraordinary events where we have the privilege to serve our community. I am proud of Abby.”
This is the couple’s second child. Their daughter, 2½-year-old Azuena, slept though the whole thing.
“Our first child’s birth took a lot of time, but this time, everything just happened a lot faster,” said Sandoval. “It was getting to the point where we were starting to panic. … Scared, nervous, put it all together, and that was me. I’m just so glad you guys (dispatchers) called back.”
Sandoval said the second time he panicked was when he thought Diego wasn’t breathing, because his daughter’s birth was complicated by the fact that the cord was wrapped around her neck, and she initially wasn’t breathing.
But the calming voice of the dispatcher helped him get through it.
“Part of me said, ‘I can’t do it,’ but another part of me said, ‘No, this is my baby, and I have to do it," Sandoval said. "... And then I saw the head, and I knew there was no going back.”