As he pulled his mini-van up to UC San Diego Health’s Hillcrest Medical Center one afternoon last December, Andy Salzman shuddered with the stressful memory of the last time he’d made that drive.
A couple of months before, Andy’s wife, Jessica Salzman, was in labor as they drove from their home in North San Diego County. As advised, they had headed to the hospital at the first sign of contractions, since labor and delivery of their older daughter, now age 2, had been so short. Yet even that turned out not to be fast enough.
“One friend said, ‘come on, do it, it’s not like you’re going to have the baby in the car — that only happens in the movies!’” recalled Andy, who had been trying to make his fantasy football picks with some friends and Jessica’s brother.
But as they got closer to the hospital, Jessica’s water broke and it became obvious that birth was imminent. When they pulled up in front of the Emergency Room, Andy jumped out of the car to get help and a wheelchair for Jessica.
Alone in the mini-van, Jessica felt the baby crowning and got up — one foot on the passenger seat, the other up on the dashboard. She screamed for help and banged on the window as baby Zoe was born. AMR Riverside County paramedics Jose Herrera and Jonathan Velazquez happened to be nearby. They had just finished transferring a patient from a hospital in Riverside down to UC San Diego Health.
Herrera and Velazquez were first to reach the mini-van, and Herrera was the first to hold newborn baby Zoe. They were quickly followed by about 20 people rushing out of the hospital in response to a “Code Pink” — a hospital-wide alert for any maternal or neonatal emergency. (Jessica works at UC San Diego Health as a physical therapist, and she later said it was funny to think “Oh, I’m the Code Pink! So this is what that is…”)
“When we hear there’s a mom who’s had a baby before needing help, we run,” said Anela Puljic, MD, an obstetrics resident physician who was one of the first doctors on the scene. “This is what we train for.”
Meanwhile, Andy heard people talking about a baby and thought, “What baby? My wife is in labor… she needs help.” He had to be told “No, your wife had the baby,” but he still couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. Puljic and her team whisked baby Zoe away.
Andy was caught in a moment of panic: “Do I stay with my wife or go with my baby?” he wondered for a moment.
“We’ve been together for 10 years,” Andy said, “so I’ve seen Jessica very relaxed in the past, on vacation and things like that, but I’d never seen her as relaxed as she was standing there in the passenger seat, having just given birth. ‘I’m fine!’ she said and smiled.”
Finally, Andy apologized to Jessica, saying he was going with the baby. Jessica was also taken inside, where both mom and baby were examined and found to be perfectly healthy.
Andy assumed the mini-van had been towed in its messy state, since he just abandoned it outside the Emergency Department, but didn’t care. Instead, he later discovered it had been valet parked and a thoughtful paramedic had wiped it down completely.
“You couldn’t even tell a baby had just been born in there!” Andy said.
All of that was behind them when, on a bright but windy December afternoon, the Salzman family reunited with their medical team for the first time since Zoe’s birth. Andy and Jessica walked along the sidewalk from the parking lot to the Emergency Department, carrying their older daughter and pushing Zoe in a stroller. Velazquez and Herrera were already waiting there for them. The men had taken the whole afternoon off to come down to meet Jessica, Andy and baby Zoe. Puljic arrived a few minutes later and hugged Jessica.
Jessica and Andy expressed their thanks again and again, as each person relived his or her part of the story and fussed over Zoe.
“We are just so touched by everyone’s response,” Jessica said. “Everyone went above and beyond — they were so professional and we received exceptional care.”
The paramedic team was in turn extremely touched by Jessica’s gratitude and her efforts to track them down and reunite with them.
“As paramedics, we’re always there for a person’s greatest moment of need, but once we deliver them to the hospital, we don’t normally hear from them again. We never learn how the patient fared afterward,” Velazquez said, “so this reunion is really meaningful for us.”
Herrera held baby Zoe while his own mother, who also came along, took their picture in front of the fateful mini-van.
Zoe is now six months old and the Salzman family is doing well. Ironically, due to the unusual position in which she delivered, Jessica was prescribed physical therapy for her back and pelvis shortly after delivery. For a few weeks she worked with one of her physical therapy colleagues at UC San Diego Health.
“It takes a village!” Jessica laughed.
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Emergency and Urgent Care
Obstetrics and Gynecology