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First Afghan baby born at Bagram Air Field

Capt. (Dr.) Brian Hearn, an obstetrics/gynecology physician, checks on Zahra, the first Afghan baby born at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 8. Although he is deployed to work as a general physician and surgeon, Doctor Hearn, like many of the hospital staff members, is using his home-station experience to help care for the newborn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

Capt. (Dr.) Brian Hearn, an obstetrics/gynecology physician, checks on Zahra, the first Afghan baby born at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 8. Although he is deployed to work as a general physician and surgeon, Doctor Hearn, like many of the hospital staff members, is using his home-station experience to help care for the newborn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

Zahra is the first Afghan baby born at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. She was born just after 5 a.m. Oct. 4, by a cesarean section. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

Zahra is the first Afghan baby born at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, on Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. She was born just after 5 a.m. Oct. 4, by a cesarean section. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

First Lt. Michelle Pierson, an Intensive Care Unit nurse deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., listens to the heartbeat of the first Afghan baby born at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 6. Without typical neonatal equipment on hand, the hospital staff created a makeshift incubator with a warming blanket and wire hangars. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

First Lt. Michelle Pierson, an Intensive Care Unit nurse deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., listens to the heartbeat of the first Afghan baby born at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Oct. 6. Without typical neonatal equipment on hand, the hospital staff created a makeshift incubator with a warming blanket and wire hangars. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

Intensive care unit nurse 1st Lt. Michelle Pierson, deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., examines Zahra, the first Afghan baby born at Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Oct. 6 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Lacking a neonatal ward, intensive care unit nurses have taken on the role of watching after the newborn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

Intensive care unit nurse 1st Lt. Michelle Pierson, deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., examines Zahra, the first Afghan baby born at Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Oct. 6 at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. Lacking a neonatal ward, intensive care unit nurses have taken on the role of watching after the newborn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez)

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- It was the middle of the night and hospital staff's pagers were going off. Inside Craig Joint Theater Hospital there was a scramble to pull together the people and equipment needed for a successful procedure. It wasn't a coalition servicemember's life they were trying to save; they were bringing a new Afghan baby into the world.

Just after 5 a.m. Oct 4, the hospital staff successfully delivered, by cesarean section, the first Afghan baby at Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Air Field.

The mother is a patient who was brought in five weeks ago after an explosion in her home. Despite sustaining major injuries to her upper and lower extremities, she was able to continue with her pregnancy.

"We were primarily following this patient for her traumatic injuries, but the fact that she was also pregnant was always on our radar," said Capt. Ron Carr, an obstetrics nurse deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "The obstetrical team of this AEF rotation had just recently begun talking about the specifics of how we would manage an active labor patient with her significant injuries and planning for the possibility of her delivering the baby while she was a patient here."

"Because the standard of obstetrical care is different here than what we'd expect in the States, we were not even sure how far along she actually was," Carr added.

Before the hospital staff could acquire additional obstetrical equipment, the woman quietly went in to labor in the early hours of Oct 4. During a normal delivery, the hospital staff would use a TOCO transducer to monitor contractions and an external fetal monitor to measure the baby's heartbeat. With neither piece of equipment available the team had to make due with only a Doppler ultrasound capable of intermittently picking up the baby's heartbeat.

"We came together and made it work for us," said Carr. "We had to intermittently monitor the baby with our ultrasound and then feel for contractions with our hands. We had to use traditional medical techniques and teach the nurses how to put their hand on her belly to feel for the contraction so that we could then convey it to the doctor."

Over the course of an hour and a half, the woman's contractions progressed from every 10 minutes down to every three minutes.

"At that point, we knew it was time to call the doctor and have him check her cervix; she was six to seven centimeters dilated when he did," said Carr. "So she was very close to having her baby."

Due to the extent of the woman's injuries, the doctors decided a vaginal delivery would present too many complications, and decided to proceed with the more controlled environment of a cesarean section.

Craig Joint Theater Hospital is not equipped with an obstetrics department, however many of the Airmen deployed here have obstetric and neonatal experience. Airmen working as medical technicians in the emergency room and intermediate care ward were pulled to assist with the delivery. Obstetrics nurses and doctors, working in general medicine at the hospital, came together and prepared for the historic delivery.

"For the C-section, we had most of the equipment we needed, because it's a standard OR procedure," said Carr. "We gathered together a C-section set out of instruments from other trauma sets we would use. We had a lot of the medications that we would use to stave off some of the more common OB complications, as well as the medications that we would routinely use post-partum. Some of it was luck, some of it was planning."

The biggest challenge was the lack of neonatal equipment. One key piece of equipment missing was a baby warmer.

"We needed something to keep the baby warm when she first arrived - we had about 15 minutes to come up with something to use in the emergency room" said Tech. Sgt. Jeremiah Diaz, a medical technician deployed from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. "First we were thinking lights, then we ended up using a Bair hugger (a warming blanket used for post-surgical patients). We made a little tent for the baby with coat hangers and an egg crate mattress."

A healthy Afghan baby girl was delivered that morning, and ever since "her presence has been a ray of light", said Carr.

"We get to see so much trauma on a daily basis, to see something positive like a baby is awesome," he said. "It's been very affirming of why we're here. We know we are here to help remedy the injuries of war, but for a lot of us, this made things kind of feel very normal because this is what we do back home. It was very encouraging to see that the hospital could get together that rapidly to make it happen; everything went incredibly smooth."

That same sentiment is echoed by most of the staff. Tech. Sgt. Roopa Schoop works in the emergency room as a medical technician. As a labor and delivery technician back at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Shoop was interested in assisting with the delivery since hearing about the woman's pregnancy. Even though it was her day off, she helped in the delivery room and performed the initial assessment on the baby.

"I'd been thinking that it would be an amazing experience to help with the delivery, she said. "I'm a mom, so I enjoy babies. I think its good therapy to hold a baby - most of us that were involved in the delivery have come back to hold her because it is a good feeling"

The baby girl's mother did not name her for a few days, so the nurses in the intensive care unit started calling the baby Savannah. When the mother and grandfather heard the staff call her by that name, they would laugh. Three days after her birth, the mother decided to name the baby Zahra, which means "white flower" in Arabic. She has exceeded the doctor's expectations and acts like any healthy baby would.

"I wish the baby well," said Shoop. "We will leave and hopefully she grows up a healthy and responsible girl."