Hamilton County honors EMTs for assisting birth of premature baby

Hamilton County honors EMTs for assisting birth of premature baby

December 8th, 2011 by Pam Sohn and Ansley Haman in News

For emergency medical technicians, delivering a baby is all in a week's work.

In the past year alone, EMTs with Hamilton County Emergency Services assisted in the home deliveries of 70 babies, according to records.

But on Wednesday, two local emergency responders received special recognition from the Hamilton County Commission for an extraordinary birth -- the successful July 31 delivery of a baby weighing less than a pound.

Myron Schroepfer and Kelly Tornow answered a distress call in the South Chattanooga community to find a woman in active premature delivery. When the team arrived, members realized it was too late to get the mother to the hospital in time: The baby's head already had emerged, and the birth was 17 to 18 weeks early.

"The big thing is all the training that we do," Schroepfer said. "You just train and train and then, when the situation shows up, it's amazing how it just clicks. It really soaks in. You don't even remember doing all of the things you do."

Though the child's lungs were underdeveloped, Schroepfer and Tornow were able to use emergency techniques to help it get enough oxygen. And after the five- to eight-minute delivery, they cranked up the heat in the ambulance to keep the newborn's temperature up on the ride to the Children's Hospital at Erlanger.

In all, their effort took about 20 minutes. And the baby survived. Hamilton County Emergency Service Chief Ken Wilkerson said the child is in good condition at Vanderbilt Hospital.

"I've had a half-dozen calls from physicians and nurses at Children's Hospital that said without the care this baby received, this baby would not have survived," Wilkerson said. "[Physicians] said they did everything by the book and then they went a little further and did things beyond the book."

According to a February report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about one-quarter -- 6,250 -- of the nation's 25,000 home births each year are unplanned.

The baby's parents asked that they not be named and their privacy be respected, officials said.

In 10 years as an EMT, Schroepfer has delivered three babies. In her three years as an EMT, Tornow has delivered four.

The commission presented the EMTs with certificates of appreciation. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger called the certificates a small token "for an unbelievable job done -- to actually visualize a child that you could actually place in the palm of your hand and to know that child is still alive today."

Wilkerson said he believes the number of unplanned out-of-hospital emergency births may be rising. And the level of illness being seen when EMTs answer calls is definitely rising, he said.

"Overall, for the 28,000 to 29,000 calls we get a year, we have seen that our patients are sicker -- possibly due to changes in health-care insurance," he said.

"It's a known factor that people are waiting longer [to get medical attention] because of a lack of primary medical coverage. And we see more patients that we're transporting to emergency departments who don't have primary physicians."