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Nurse saves baby born in back seat of car in Medical Center East parking lot

Elijah Youssef will have quite a story to tell about the day he came into the world.

by December 12, 2017

Elijah sleeps peacefully in his mother’s arms, blissfully unaware of the panic and turmoil surrounding his arrival. Photo by Anne Rayner.

Young Elijah Youssef was in a hurry to get here.

So much of a hurry that he was born unexpectedly in the back seat of his family’s Honda Accord in the parking lot outside Medical Center East — much to the surprise of his mother and father, his toddler brother, and the passing nurse and EMT who helped baby Elijah into the world.

“I actually thought I was dreaming through the whole thing. We only hear about these things in the movies,” the mother said.

Mona Youssef, his mother, did not expect Wednesday, Dec. 6, to turn out like it did. On that afternoon she was chatting on the phone with her mother, who lives in Egypt, cleaning her apartment and keeping an eye on her toddler son. She wanted to get some things taken care of around the house because she was scheduled to have labor induced the next day.

Baby Elijah did not want to wait.

A woman is in labor out here!

VUMC research coordinator Steven Welton’s evening was about to get interesting.

Around 6 p.m. on that Wednesday, Welton, RN, was talking with a colleague near the second floor entrance to Medical Center East (MCE), saying goodbye before they parted ways for the evening.

Steven Welton, RN, at the entrance to Medical Center East where he was called to action to care for a mom and baby in distress. Photo by Wayne Wood.

As they stood near the automatic doors that lead to the valet entrance, a woman came rushing around the corner, hurrying toward the north tower elevators.

“Hey, mom,” Welton said and began to introduce her to his colleague.

But his mother, Chris Biesemeier, director of clinical nutrition for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, had no time for small talk. She quickly explained that she had just seen a frantic father —it was Mona Youssef’s husband Rafet Youssef — who said his wife was in labor in a car outside. Biesemeier was searching for a wheelchair to assist her.

“Take me to her and we’ll figure out what to do,” Welton told her.

They exited MCE, and saw a rear door was open on a car parked just outside the entrance. In the back seat were a pregnant woman and a toddler. Both were distraught and crying.

Biesemeier picked up the child to comfort him while Welton looked around for the father who had gone to find help. He wasn’t back yet, so he called VUMC’s Rapid Response Team and then tried to calm the woman, who did not speak English, by demonstrating Lamaze breathing.

The baby boy was blue and lifeless and not crying. Welton patted the baby’s back. Nothing. He then began compressions on his tiny chest, using two index fingers. After two minutes – an audible gasp.

“I didn’t know if it was a regular pregnancy, how far along she was. I had no idea if [she had] preeclampsia or anything like that,” Welton said.

And, in case you’re wondering, he had never assisted in a delivery before.

Calling on his training, Welton evaluated the woman and surmised that her water had broken and she was in active labor.

“You only have a few seconds to assess and figure those things out…and then you need to do it,” he said. He recalled thinking: “This is bad; it’s just me and my mom and one bystander at this point.”

He laid the woman down in the back seat and determined the baby was indeed making its entrance into the world right then and there, and it was up to him to carefully help ease the baby the rest of the way out of his mother’s womb.

But even after the baby was born, nobody could relax because there was an ominous sound — silence.

Welton, formerly a VUMC trauma nurse, noticed the baby boy was blue and lifeless and not crying. He patted the baby’s back. Nothing. He then began compressions on his tiny chest, using two index fingers. After two minutes, the baby took what Welton described as a weak Apneic breath – an audible gasp.

“I thought, ‘OK, cool, got something, so I kept doing compressions.”

The baby’s nose and mouth were plugged with mucous. With assistance from an EMT who was transporting another patient, they suctioned the baby and stabilized him by the time the Rapid Response team arrived.

It had all happened in what seemed an instant — so fast that when Rafet Youssef ran back to the car, his son Elijah had already been born.

Mona Youssef was transported to the Emergency Department and baby Elijah was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Both were determined to be in good condition.

Like in the movies

The next day, resting comfortably in her post-partum room in Medical Center East, Mona Youssef said, through an Arabic interpreter, that she is thankful Welton was present and she credits him with saving her life and her baby’s.

“I actually thought I was dreaming through the whole thing. We only hear about these things in the movies,” she said. “I thought I lost him when I couldn’t see him breathing. What scared me is the baby didn’t cry. The two doctors [Welton and the EMT] who saw me, I think they saved my life and his life.”

Rafet Youssef happily embraces his two sons; big brother seems less than pleased with events. Mother Mona Youssef, having just given birth in a car, requested that she not be photographed. Photo by Anne Rayner.

Mona Youssef had felt fine earlier that day and, when she realized the discomfort she’d been feeling was labor, things escalated quickly and during the 15-minute drive to Vanderbilt, her water broke and the baby began to crown. The Youssefs pulled into the MCE parking lot hoping to make it to labor and delivery on the fourth floor.

That’s when Rafet Youssef ran to the MCE pharmacy to find help — and where Biesemeier saw him and sprang into action.

Mother and baby are doing well and were discharged home Dec. 8. Welton, who says babies “freak him out,” was happy to return to his research post with the ICU Delirium and Cognitive Impairment Group the next day.

And impatient little Elijah Youssef has quite a story to tell about the day he was born.


Baby, Childbirth, cars, Steven Welton, nursing