Gardiner firefighter Tony Cataldi holds baby Oaklyn Lunt on Tuesday at the Gardiner fire station. Cataldi was part of the rescue crew that helped save Oaklyn’s life after she wasn’t breathing after being born at home on Feb. 8. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

GARDINER — Maegan Carves’ second daughter came into the world feet first in the early hours of Feb. 8 in the middle of an ice storm at home.

In the seconds after Oaklyn was born, it was clear she wasn’t breathing and there was no heart beat.

This was not what Carves, 29, and Robbie Lunt, 32,  had planned for the home birth of their second child. Carves’s labor for her older daughter Lucy had been 31 hours. Even though their midwife was in Bangor and their doula was in Vassalboro, they thought they had plenty of time.

But time was running out.

“Everything happened so fast and so slow at the same time,” Carves said, recalling what happened before her newborn daughter’s life was saved by Gardiner emergency medical personnel.

 

A SURPRISE APPEARANCE

A little more than two weeks later, much of that night remains a blur to Carves.

With both a newborn and toddler at home, she hasn’t had much time to think about what happened in the hours after her older daughter Lucy woke in the middle of the night, something she rarely does.

“It was really bizarre she had woken up,” Carves said.

As she was heading back to her own bedroom after settling Lucy down at about 1:45 a.m., Carves had a contraction. She’d had a few, on and off in the two weeks before, and she decided she’d try to sleep through it.

Three days earlier, Carves had been to see her doctor because the baby hadn’t yet turned. Oaklyn was in a frank breech position, with her feet up by her head. The doctor attempted an external cephalic version to manually turn the baby, but it hadn’t worked. They had discussed delivering the baby the following week by Cesarean section, but home birth wasn’t necessarily ruled out.

At 2:40 a.m., she woke her husband up and said, “I think we’re actually in labor this time.”

Outside the family’s home on Oaklands Farm Road, a coating of snow followed by freezing rain from a two-day storm covered everything. They called the midwife and the doula — someone who offers help and support during childbirth — and Carves got into her bathtub to wait for their arrival.

“All of a sudden, my body started to push on its own,” Carves said. “I’d only been in the bathtub not even an hour-and-a-half yet. So there was no way I was thinking this was going to be happening.”

She reached down and felt a foot and asked Lunt to take a look. It was a foot; the baby had straightened out and was coming feet first.

That’s when they called 911.

“My body pushed her body out,” Carves said. “She did get stuck at her shoulder, the armpit area. We had the midwife on one phone and 911 on the other. Our midwife instructed Robbie on how to wrap a towel around her and turn her the right way.”

When Oaklyn was born, she made no initial gasp.

Carves was suctioning out the mouth, and it wasn’t working.

 

AN URGENT CALL

Gardiner, a city of about 5,800 in southern Kennebec County, has a full-time professional fire department that serves the city. Its firefighters, who are paramedics or advanced emergency medical technicians, staff the Gardiner Ambulance Service that serves seven communities and part of an eighth.

There are times when both crews are out with both ambulances responding to calls across the service area, which stretches from Pittston to Litchfield and Chelsea to Richmond, leaving the fire station empty.

But early on that Saturday morning, both crews — plus another firefighter who opted to spend the night at the station rather than heading home in bad weather — were asleep in the bunk room at the fire station on Church Street.

Gardiner firefighter Jesse Thompson, left, picks up Oaklyn Lunt from her mother Maegan Carves during a visit on Tuesday at the Gardiner fire station. Thompson was part of the rescue crew that helped save Oaklyn’s life after she wasn’t breathing after being born at home on Feb. 8. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“This was not a usual call for us,” Jesse Thompson, one of Gardiner’s firefighter/paramedics, said.  “Pediatrics calls are usually few and far between.”

Thompson, the crew chief, doesn’t now remember what time the call came in. But the moment they heard it, they were in high gear.

“It’s like zero to 100 when you hear it’s a kid involved,” Thompson said.

Pediatric calls come with their own challenges, and Gardiner paramedics have all responded to such instances with bad outcomes.

“Kids do really good,” Thompson said. “They’ll maintain, and then they crash on you. It goes like that. It can go south very fast.”

And when it’s a newborn, he said, there’s no time for error.

It was 4:17 a.m.

Both crews, and Gary Hickey II who was spending the night, responded, one for the baby, one for the mother.

Within moments, Thompson was stepping through the bathroom door, where he saw a newborn on a bathmat and a woman administering CPR.

 

A QUICK RESPONSE

When suctioning Oaklyn’s mouth didn’t work Tanisha Corson, the 911 dispatcher, had instructed Carves to start CPR.

As part of an early childhood occupations class Carves had CPR training, so she knew what she needed to do.

“Waiting for them felt like a million years,” she said.

In reality, Carves estimates only four-and-a-half minutes passed between Lunt’s 911 call and Thompson coming through her bathroom door.

“I was not even looking up,” she said. “I was so focused on what I was doing. I just remember someone coming and reaching right down over top of me and just grabbing her and going.”

Thompson said Hickey took over CPR as they rushed Oaklyn straight out to the ambulance.

They clamped and cut the umbilical cord and cranked the heat in the back of the ambulance. They started breathing for her, and continued CPR. The cardiac monitor showed a fairly good heart rate. They continued helping her breathe.

When the paramedics took her daughter, Carves was on her feet and ready to follow when Lunt grabbed her to put a robe on her and give her a towel. She put on some rubber boots and ran out the door.

“I was just going,” she said.

Thompson wasn’t expecting to see Carves climb into the patient area of his ambulance because he knew a second one was dispatched for her, so he was surprised when she did.

“She was adamant about it,” he said. “She wasn’t leaving her baby.”

But she couldn’t stay in the patient care area, where three firefighters were administering care and Thompson was overseeing it all. She needed to be seen to as well.

Gardiner firefighter Tony Cataldi holds baby Oaklyn Lunt on Tuesday at the Gardiner fire station. Cataldi was part of the rescue crew that helped save Oaklyn’s life after she wasn’t breathing after being born at home on Feb. 8. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Tony Cataldi, a firefighter/paramedic, stacked a couple of blankets, set them on the front seat and strapped her in because that was the safest place for her to be. Within seconds, at Thompson’s signal, they were on the way to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta.

“Lights and siren, off we went,” Cataldi said.

For both Cataldi and Thompson, time stretched unbearably in the 12-mile trip when no one could drive fast enough. After Thompson contacted the hospital to let them know what was coming, he thought: Why aren’t we there yet? It seemed like 10 minutes had passed, but when he checked it it had been less than a minute.

‘”The hospital is definitely more equipped to handle little ones than what we are,” Thompson said.

From the driver’s seat, Cataldi did his best not to show that he could feel the rear tires slide a little bit as they made their way through Hallowell to the hospital.

 

EVERYONE IS HEALTHY

At MaineGeneral, Carves stuck with her daughter until the hospital staff was certain she was stable. After she started feeling lightheaded, she was evaluated.

“I was kind of a hot mess, still,” she said.

Because Oaklyn hadn’t been breathing when she was born, mother and daughter were taken to the neonatal intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where they stayed for nine days. Oaklyn underwent evaluation and treatment, including a stint on a cooling mat during which she could not be held.

“They had EEG machines on her head to make sure she had no seizures and did an MRI after the treatment was done, and everything came back perfect,” she said. “They said she has a beautiful brain and she’s going to be a genius.”

Oaklyn will see a neurologist at 3, 6 and 12 months old to confirm that all is well, Carves said.

In the aftermath of the handoff, the Gardiner ambulance crew started cleaning the rescue truck to get it back into service and reviewing the call and whether they could have done anything better.

“What don’t you learn from this?” Thompson said. “I don’t even know where to begin. It’s pretty much nothing what you covered in the textbook, but it’s everything they cover in the textbook.”

“A couple of times, you almost snap out of the situation,” Cataldi said. “Like, OK, wait a second — What’s next? And before you even know it, your hands are moving and you’re doing what you need to do. It’s a weird feeling.”

“It’s kind of like Muhammad Ali used to say,” Thompson said. “You train like you fight and you fight like you train. That’s why we take all these continuing education classes, and we practice the way we’re going to treat so it becomes second nature.”

In the aftermath of the birth and the Facebook post put up by the Gardiner Fire Department, Carves said she and Lunt have had a lot of pushback over their decision to have a home birth and not to try to get to the hospital.

For her second child, Carves figured her labor would be shorter, but not shorter by 29 hours. If they had made the decision to head to MaineGeneral, she said, she might have given birth in the car on the side of Interstate 295, waiting for an ambulance crew, equipped with oxygen, to find them on the highway.

“It was God’s plan to have her born at home,” she said.

Carves said her family was lucky the fire department was so close when they called 911, particularly since the midwife and doula were so far away.

“Yeah, I think about it,” she said earlier this week. “But I don’t sit there and think horrible about it just because it was a home birth that didn’t go as planned. I don’t think about it in a negative way because it could have been so much worse.”


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