Major James Kevin Polk, an air nurse assigned to the 183rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, 172nd Airlift Wing, Mississippi National Guard, saved two lives in Bolton, Mississippi, after Hurricane Ida.
In the early hours of September 5, 2021, Dustin and Ashley Smith, evacuees from Lafitte, La., Welcomed a new baby in the bathtub of a friend’s house; then everything took a turn.
Most people aren’t surprised to hear from National Guardsmen who respond with support efforts, including engineers, flight skills, military police, and communications support, but sometimes when you least expect a hero shows up when you need them most. That’s exactly what happened to the Smith family when Polk gave birth to their baby and saved the lives of the mother and newborn child.
The journey began on August 27, 2021 as the city of Lafitte, La., Prepared for the wrath of Hurricane Ida. Ashley was expecting her fourth child and was pondering the best way to evacuate her family while preparing for the birth of her baby during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ashley’s family is from Indiana, and anticipating a difficult drive to get to her 38th week of pregnancy, she realized she needed to explore other options. At this point a good friend, Brandi Arcement from Benateri, LA, called and invited Ashley, Dustin, their three children, and the family dog â€‹â€‹to stay with their parents, Craig and Karry Degruise, of Bolton. The next day, the Smith family, Brandi and their children, arrived safely at the Degruise family home to await the storm.
On August 29, Hurricane Ida hit Port Fourchon, La., A Category 4 hurricane, just a few miles from where Hurricane Katrina had left its mark exactly 16 years earlier. The storm devastated the Smiths’ hometown and caused severe damage to their home, so they stayed in Mississippi. They were safe with friends and eagerly awaited the time to safely welcome their new baby.
In his civilian capacity, Polk is a nurse in the recovery room at the Baptist Hospital in Jackson, Miss., And a neighbor of the Degruise family in Bolton. On September 2, Karry invited Polk to visit Ashley and Dustin to answer questions, offer comfort, and discuss options for a birth plan in case she went into labor. Ashley considered giving birth at home out of fear COVID-19 and the limitations of an unfamiliar hospital environment. It was her fear that the family would be separated or prevented from seeing each other due to the pandemic.
“I think things happen for a reason,” said Ashley. â€œI’m good friends with their daughter, Brandi, and Karry and Craig made us like family. This was the best birth experience that my husband and I had of all of our four children. “
Ashley went into labor on September 4th. She began timing her contractions just after 11 a.m. And woke her husband at midnight to tell him the contractions were coming faster – about two minutes apart. She woke the host family and said she didn’t think she would make it to the hospital in time. Karry jumped into action, called Polk, and started bathing water. Ashley’s plan included a water birth.
“He [Polk] just rolled up his sleeves and took action, â€said Karry. “He knew exactly what to do and got to work.”
Polk had experience of labor and delivery while on active duty as a nurse at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. His medical experience under pressure while serving as an Air Force Flight Nurse in Iraq prepared him for the day’s events.
“My military training helped me stay calm,” said Polk. â€œMy job as a nurse on the Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) during the mission was the best job I’ve ever had in the military. There is no higher honor than treating someone who protects our freedom. It’s worth knowing that you’ve made a difference. “
Polk sat by the bathtub and quietly talked to Ashley about the birth. The labor went quickly and at 12:30 p.m. Julia Lane Smith was born.
Ashley waited eagerly for her newborn girl’s first cry. When the baby was born, Polk immediately assessed her well-being without alarming the new parents. The color of the baby was blue and Polk went out of his way to get the baby to breathe. He began to give her rescue breath and was able to stabilize the newborn.
“It took the baby a while to breathe, probably because it was such a quick birth,” he said. â€œI started rescue breathing when she didn’t start to breathe on her own. Free airways are the most important thing after the baby is born. I covered the baby’s mouth and nose with my mouth and gave her three breaths. Then she started to breathe herself. “
Polk stated that everything went as it should after the baby started breathing. They used a zip tie to hold the umbilical cord in place and kitchen scissors to cut the cord. He cleaned them all up and let the new mom relax in the tub before trying to get her out.
Ashley stayed in the tub for about an hour to rest. When she tried to get out of the tub, she became weak, Polk explained.
â€œAshley’s pulse was weak and threadbare. She turned blue and passed out, â€Polk said. â€œShe slipped into the tub. Dustin grabbed her and held her while I gave her five breaths. I remember saying, before I gave her the breaths, ‘I’m not trying to kiss you. Come on, you can do that. ‘ At first she didn’t react. I was just about to start resuscitation when Ashley said, ‘I was just taking a nap.’ “
Polk stayed with the family for a while to monitor Ashley and her newborn baby. In the days that followed, he continued to check out the Smith family to make sure they were all safe. During one of the Family follow-up visits a few days later, Ashley told him about her fear of childbirth.
“It was a wish of mine to have a home birth amid the COVID pandemic,” said Ashley. â€œBefore the birth, I had a feeling and was so scared that we couldn’t get through it. Kevin showed up 100 percent. He was calm and at no point did I have any stress or worry. He did a phenomenal job to keep me calm. “
The Smiths and Degruises said they were extremely grateful for the exceptional result.
â€œThere is no monetary value, enough gratitude, or gifts that I can ever give Kevin, Karry, and Craig to express how grateful my husband and I are for this entire experience. I feel like angels have been put in my way to help in a situation that was insane all around us, â€said Ashley.
Polk summed up his experience with the words: “Every time you feel like you are a part of saving a life, it is the best feeling in the world.”
The Smith family is currently rebuilding their home due to the damage caused by Hurricane Ida.