March 22, 2013 was an eventful day at Val Verde Regional Medical Center in Del Rio, Texas. That’s the day Leia Isabella Martinez was born. Her first name means “delicate daughter of the heavens”, and this poetic description fits her to a T.
Raquel and her husband, Beto, weren’t planning to start their family quite yet. “Leia wasn’t planned,” Raquel shares. “She was a honeymoon baby, but we were both very excited when we found out.” With a due date in April, Raquel worked her 60-hour a week restaurant management job until February, when occasional contractions prompted a full bed rest order from her doctor.
Raquel’s last scheduled doctor’s appointment was in mid-March where she found out that she had developed gestational diabetes. The next night, Raquel was planning to spend at her grandma’s, but during the day she realized something was happening, Rachel says. “My parents came over and said my water broke. I didn’t think that was possible since it was so early.” At the hospital, however, her parents’ assessment was confirmed.
The staff kept Raquel’s doctor updated by phone; he would come in when it was time for the delivery. Shortly after midnight he gave an order to induce Raquel as the baby hadn’t yet moved into the birth canal. Twelve more hours…nothing. At noon, still no baby. “And then all of a sudden,” Raquel says, “she was coming.” The doctor came in. The delivery progressed, but very, very slowly. The doctor tried suctioning the baby out twice to no avail. “Finally I was able to push her head out,” Raquel says, “and then everyone started panicking.” Multiple medical staff climbed onto the bed and put pressure on Raquel’s abdomen. “They said they had to get the baby out right away. It was hard to breathe, and I felt like I was going to faint.”
Leia was delivered with the assistance of a second doctor, who laid the newborn on Raquel’s belly. She knew something was wrong when her baby didn’t cry. “They cut the umbilical cord and took her away,” she says. “I overheard ‘no pulse’ and ‘very weak heartbeat’. Then I heard ‘Clear!’ and I knew they were using the paddles on her.”
Raquel was informed that Leia was nearly stillborn and currently in extremely critical condition. She required a ventilator and was having seizures. Doctors said that if she did survive, she might have seizures for the rest of her life. In addition, her left arm was broken, and she had a brachial plexus injury on her right side. Val Verde doesn’t have a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), so Leia would be flown to Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, and she needed to get there as soon as possible.
The Methodist AirCare specialty team, with Methodist AirCare providing the pilot and safety officer, and Methodist Healthcare providing the nurse and respiratory therapist, arrived quickly for the transport. The special medically-equipped helicopter was piloted by Bill Soeth, with Flight Nurse Jessica Schroder on board acting as Safety Officer. Completing the team were two of Methodist Children’s neonatal staff: Registered Nurse Mildred Moczygemba and Respiratory Therapist Ali Soujoudi.
Jessica Schroder has been with Methodist AirCare for five years. “Our teams are very capable,” she states. “On these team flights, one of us goes as a Safety Officer to make sure that all the operational needs of the hospital staff are met. We have trained them to be able to operate independently in the aircraft, but we are still there to facilitate, which allows them to focus.”
Upon arrival in San Antonio, the team went to Leia first, then to Raquel. RN Mildred Moczygemba says, “We had been informed that the baby was large and that it was a very difficult delivery. I took one look at the baby and knew immediately that she was in trouble.” Mildred is quick to praise Val Verde’s delivery team, however. “They did a really good job of resuscitating Leia and cooling her. I gave her phenobarbital for the seizures and bicarbonate, and we got her ready for transport.”
Raquel remembers the flight team’s arrival. “They came into the room, and they were really sweet. They gave me the comforting words I needed,” she says. “They gave me hope.”
Respiratory Therapist Ali Soujoudi loves his job. “For me, this work is a passion. I want to give the patient everything I can. Regarding the hybrid flight team Ali says, “Everybody on these teams presents themselves very professionally. They give information to family members in a way that makes it easy to understand. When families see all this, they develop a sense of trust. I have great admiration and respect for everyone at AirCare. They are part of the family. They are so knowledgeable, so skilled and proficient, and we all have the same goal. It’s always about the patient.”
Raquel and Beto were given a few minutes with their daughter prior to transport. Though it was a traumatic situation to have their newborn taken away so soon after birth, they were just grateful that she was alive and that she would soon receive the critical care she needed.
Mildred shares what she remembers most about meeting Raquel. “They brought her in a wheelchair. I told her about the transport and the whole process, and I also gave her a warning that her baby was gravely ill. She looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I know that you will do the very best that you can for her.’ I’ll never forget that.”
It was time for the team to get Leia on board for the 150-mile flight to the hospital. “They said they would call me when they got there,” Raquel shares. “They told me to rest and recover so that I could come be with her.”
They gave me the comforting words I needed. They gave me hope.
Raquel Martinez, Leia's Mother
Raquel made it to San Antonio the next day. Although Leia was receiving the best possible care, doctors were not optimistic. “They said I shouldn’t get my hopes up, that she was only alive because she was on a ventilator. That was hard. After a few days, I started going into a depression. I was getting more and more attached to my baby.”
Thankfully, soon thereafter, Leia made huge progress: she no longer needed the ventilator.
Raquel shares that Leia’s flight team continued to offer support. “They really cared about her progress. They would check on her, and then they would visit me and tell me how well she was doing. I know they didn’t have to do this, but they did. It meant so much to me.”
Says Mildred, “I saw the baby every day that I worked at the hospital, and I’d check on her mom, too.” Mildred has been a nurse for 17 years, the last 13 in NICU. “I love my job so much!” she says. “It’s what I always wanted to do.”
On April 6, two days before her original due date, Raquel and Beto’s delicate daughter of the heavens was sent home. The NICU staff prepared the new parents as best they could, giving them a bounty of information and recommendations. “They even made us learn how to perform CPR on an infant before they would release Leia,” Raquel says.
Experiences like this are a joy for Ali, who says he’s grateful for the opportunity to meet so many different people. “When people bring their children here,” he says, “it’s not because they want to be here. They don’t want to be here. When I see the stress and anxiety on their faces, honestly, I put myself in their place. I want to give them comfort, and then I do my job. It’s just so great when you see them leaving the facility smiling.”
Seven months later, the report on Leia is optimistic. She no longer needs regular doctors’ appointments. “We will probably always need developmental help for Leia. It’s hard to tell exactly what damage was done. She’s smart, though. She sits up. She sleeps through the night. She says ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. She’s pretty much just all smiles.” Raquel chuckles. “She’s a total drama queen, too. She throws fake tantrums. But it’s understandable. She’s an only baby, so she gets everything she wants.”
Thinking back on all that’s happened, Raquel shares, “Something like this really makes you appreciate things. If you’re healthy, don’t take it for granted. If your baby’s healthy, don’t take it for granted. Know what a blessing those things are.”