TAMPA — Katie Dean, 38 weeks pregnant, was wrapping up a 60-hour Hurricane Irma shift as a labor and delivery nurse at Tampa General Hospital on Monday night when she felt something. Contractions maybe? She ignored them as her husband helped pack up for the ride home to St. Petersburg.
She had worked 12 hours on, 12 hours off since early Saturday on a team that delivered 15 babies — including one named Irma. She was probably stressed, Dean told herself, and at her stage of pregnancy, false labor pains can be normal.
As Irma approached, the couple weighed their options. Her due date was Sept. 27, but what if she went into labor during the hurricane? The best place for her to be, then, was at the hospital.
"To not be on the hurricane team would be more of a risk for me," Dean said. "If I were to go into labor, this would be the safest place to be … I felt like I was in the best hands at this hospital."
The Deans were relieved to find their home had no damage and they still had power. They spent Tuesday cleaning up the yard with relatives who needed a place to stay.
Around midnight, the couple headed back to Tampa General. Katie Dean's water had broken.
Planning a delivery around a hurricane can be a tricky thing.
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As Irma churned toward Florida last week, expectant mothers close to term flooded the phone lines of local hospitals.
Some asked if they had to evacuate, if they could take their medical records with them. Others wanted to know if they could use the hospital as an evacuation shelter, in case they went into labor.
Courtney Hancock, a nurse manager for ante/postpartum and lactation services at Tampa General, said they told the expectant mothers to consult with their doctors. But she said hospitals wouldn't induce labor unless it was a medical necessity.
"We obviously didn't want to deliver anyone that didn't need to be delivered," Hancock said, "but we didn't want to leave anyone stranded."
In some cases, shelters decided it was too risky to take in pregnant women. That troubled Kristin Kilgore, nurse manager of the labor and delivery team at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater. She said three expectant mothers came to the hospital saying shelters turned them away because they were too far along.
"We couldn't take them in as patients," she said, "but we took them in as visitors and made sure they were taken care of."
Some studies have linked the drop in barometric pressure that comes with hurricanes to women going into labor. But bay area hospitals said they saw their usual number of deliveries during Irma.
Tampa General delivered 15 babies from Saturday through Monday. At BayCare's 14 hospitals across the region, a total of 80 babies were delivered. Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel said it saw seven babies born between Saturday and Monday.
"It was just an anxious time," said Lisa Rance, a registered nurse for labor and delivery who worked the hurricane shift at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa. "We didn't know what exactly was going to happen. But in the midst of this, there were moments of joy."
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Katie Dean's husband, Dan, 30, took their 2½-year-old son to Ocala to ride out the storm while mom worked the hurricane shift. He worried that his wife might go into labor while he was away.
He joked that if she did, he would swim back to Tampa to be with her.
It didn't come to that. At 4:52 a.m. Wednesday, the couple welcomed their second child, Christopher Dean, born at 7 pounds and 1 ounce. He arrived two weeks early, but healthy and without complications.
Despite Irma and having five relatives still without power living with them, it all worked out for the Deans. The new mother of two said Wednesday was one of the best days of her life.
"God has his own timing and sometimes his timing is not our own," she said. "But it all ends up okay."
Contact Divya Kumar at email@example.com. Follow @divyadivyadivya.