NEW TAMPA — Michael Bernard thought he would miss his daughter's birth.
The former University of South Florida basketball player was half a world away playing basketball professionally for a European team.
They made it to the playoffs, extending their season, so he wouldn't get back to Tampa in time.
Bernard did get to hear his baby's first cries.
An iPhone brought the birth of 7-pound, 5-ounce Maliyah to her dad's living room in Levice, a town in western Slovakia, where her cries filled his ears, where a nurse could be heard counting fingers and toes, where the surgeon's hearty congratulations brought this 6-foot-9-inch ballplayer to tears.
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Kimber Bernard, 42, is a stay-at-home mom. In 1998, she was diagnosed with thyroidism, an ailment that, if not monitored, can result in a dwarfed baby. Then, in 2000, doctors discovered she had multiple sclerosis, which can bring on bouts of blindness and the inability to walk.
Her condition limited pain management options when she delivered her two older boys, Anthony, now 8, and Kavon, 6. She was in Germany when she had Kavon under general anesthesia. When she awoke, she experienced the worst pain of her life.
Those thoughts swirled in her mind as she checked into University Community Hospital with intense pain April 14, six days before her scheduled caesarean section. Doctors decided to deliver the baby that day.
Kimber, considered a high-risk patient, was anxious because of a previous bad experience during delivery. She worried about her medical condition and was concerned for her unborn baby.
Without her husband there, she wanted to stay awake during the procedure to be sure the baby was healthy. She begged them for a spinal anesthetic, which usually involves inserting a needle in the lower back region and injecting a local anesthetic.
The anesthesiologist, Dr. Harrison Le, resisted. For MS sufferers, the procedure is stressful on the spine and can be dangerous. After hearing the risks, Kimber agreed to the general anesthesia.
Then she learned that her mother would not be allowed in the surgery room, in keeping with hospital procedures when dealing with a patient under general anesthesia. She felt all alone.
But the gift of an electronic birth fell into the Bernards' laps when a close friend, a surgery nurse for 23 years, happened to be working at UCH that day.
Heather Outen asked the surgeon and the anesthesiologist to allow her to help the family.
"When you are looking at the patient, it's not just the physical surgery needs, it's the spiritual and emotional needs of that family as well," Outen said. "We do everything we can to make that experience as memorable as possible."
UCH nurses have made telephone calls to family members immediately after births. But they've never gone to this extent, Outen said.
With permission from Le and the surgeon, Dr. Steven Greenberg, Outen took Kimber Bernard's iPhone and, from a window outside the surgery room, gave Michael Bernard the play-by-play.
They are wheeling her into the surgery suite now. They're prepping her. They're positioning her.
Outen had to hang up the cell phone during the actual procedure to avoid any interference with technology in the operating room. But when little Maliyah was almost out, she re-established communication.
The baby will be born shortly. … You've got a baby girl! Ten fingers, 10 toes!
Bernard, who is out of the country about 10 months a year, was with his wife during the births of their two sons. He used that experience to envision all the movements as the crisp sounds echoed from his phone.
"It was very clear," recalled Bernard, 32. "I was surprised."
He heard the baby cry.
"Congratulations, Mike. You have your first baby girl," Greenberg bellowed into the phone. "We're going to look after Kimber now. She's doing wonderful."
Bernard collapsed on a couch in his small apartment and cried.
Moments later, the photographs of his newborn daughter began appearing on his phone.
He flew home on April 21 to see the baby in between games. Then he returned to Slovakia to help his team win the championship.
Now, he's back home again. Just in time for Father's Day.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.