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Fire station is up early for special delivery

A couple pulls into the Treasure Island fire station, where their baby arrives feet first into the hands of paramedics.

By LENNIE BENNETT

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


TREASURE ISLAND -- Alexis Kateland Downs entered the world feet first in the bay of the Treasure Island Fire Department at 7:01 Tuesday morning weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces.

Her debut was auspicious, as the first baby ever born at the station. And lucky, too, because as a high-risk breech baby, her birth was remarkably free of frightening, life-threatening complications.

Her father, Eric Downs, is used to working quickly, as the owner of a restaurant specializing in pizzas and wraps. But nothing prepared him or his wife, Stephanie, for the fast work their daughter made of being born.

"Timing is everything," said Eric Downs. "And we ran out of time."

The Treasure Island couple, who are also parents of a 4-year-old son, were awake early that morning as Mrs. Downs started having sporadic contractions.

"All of a sudden," Eric Downs said, "they started coming rapidly."

Concerned about the drive from the beach to Bayfront Medical Center in downtown St. Petersburg and the possibility of being delayed by an open bridge, he pulled into the nearby fire station.

"I asked the paramedic on duty if he felt like delivering a baby," Downs said. "He was surprised at first, but nobody panicked."

Paramedic Terry Moulton was just up, preparing to end his 24-hour shift at the station.

"I've never, ever delivered a baby," he said. "I had just been to my monthly CME (continuing medical education) and it was about births.

"That was good."

At 6:55 a.m. Moulton and two other fire station paramedics eased Mrs. Downs on to a stretcher and brought her into the station. "Usually we just put them into an ambulance and drive them on to the hospital," he said. "But then we saw the baby's foot was presenting itself."

In normal deliveries, babies are born head first. A reversed position, called a breech delivery, in which the feet appear first, is potentially very serious because there is greater risk that the umbilical cord, which supplies oxygen to the baby, will become compressed, causing brain injury.

Dr. James Bledsoe, Mrs. Downs' obstetrician, said on Tuesday afternoon that 5 to 10 percent of babies are in the breech position before birth.

"If we can't turn them around," he said, "we section them," meaning the baby is delivered using a surgical procedure called a Caesarean section.

Surgery for Mrs. Downs was out of the question. So the paramedics worked gently to ease the baby out while keeping the head in the birth canal.

In just six minutes, she was born. They clamped her umbilical cord, which was wrapped loosely around her neck, and suctioned her airways. She let out a healthy howl, and then Eric Downs cut the cord.

"It happened so fast," he said.

An ambulance transported father, mother and baby to Bayfront, where they were met by Bledsoe, who pronounced mother and daughter fine.

"They were very lucky it was an uncomplicated breech," said Bledsoe.

Tuesday afternoon was filled with a more conventional round of tests and naps. Mrs. Downs and Alexis plan to go home today or Thursday.

"I feel fine," said Mrs. Downs.

"I feel great," said Eric Downs.

Alexis Downs, maker of history and cause of commotion, stirred briefly in her mother's arms, yawned and slept on.

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