Thirty-two year-old Amber Jeannotte, a relatively new resident to Williams Lake, was nearing the end of her third trimester. Amber and her fiancé Sheldon Peart had just moved to Williams Lake from Yellowknife two years earlier.
Amber had been watching the wildfires situation with some anxiety. The unpredictability of childbirth was intimidating enough but now Amber had to consider the threat of immediate evacuation of her entire city. At a time when every hour matters, Amber and Sheldon had to patiently wait for their baby to arrive. Four days overdue and counting, they watched neighbours pack up belongings in preparation to leave.
“Truthfully, if we weren’t about to have a baby, we probably would have left on the Saturday,” admitted Sheldon.
At midnight on Sunday July 9 things were getting painful for Amber. It was time to get to the hospital. Fortunately, after only an 8-minute drive from their house, they were admitted into an eerily vacant hospital. Everyone who could be moved out, was. All units were closed except Emergency, and even the maternity unit was mostly shut down. Almost a day and a half later, Amber was in full labour starting at 02:00 on Monday, July 10. Some ten hours later, in the middle of a provincial wildfire crisis, their highly-anticipated bundle of joy finally arrived.
“We joked before-hand that if it was a girl, we’d call her Ember, and if it was a boy, we’d call him Smoky,” Amber said.
They named their new baby girl Ava Rose Peart. She was born 7 lbs 15 oz at 12:30 on July 10. With mom and babe both healthy and doing well, there was no time to waste.
They needed to be taken outside the evacuated city. BCEHS paramedics Lonnie Barkhouse and Mark Gaudio were called in to transport Amber and Ava to the Quesnel hospital.
Following behind the ambulance, Sheldon said the 77-minute drive was surreal. “There were ashes falling from the sky. The smoke was so thick we couldn’t see the town at all.”
As it turns out the Quesnel hospital was full, so Amber and Ava were switched over to a new ambulance headed to Prince George. BCEHS paramedics Katinka Goossen and Dale Heggtveit stepped in to help Amber and Ava safely make the next leg of their journey. But not before both crews took time to help Amber with her very first diaper change and feeding.
“It was so nice to see something positive come out of all the tragedy around us. So much devastation with people losing their belongings, their homes… and then you see the joy on this mom’s face experiencing all these ‘firsts’ with her baby. It was just wonderful,” Goossen said.
Amber was grateful the paramedics were there. “They were so helpful. They held and cared for the baby while I was looked at by some of the nurses. They took great care in adding extra padding for Ava in her car seat. They really made a terrible situation, bearable.”
Amber, Sheldon and their miraculous “fire-baby” made it to Prince George, where they say the air is so much nicer to breathe. Sheldon said they’d be discharged from the hospital on July 12 and had no idea where they’d go. They hadn’t made plans for being there at all. One of the attending doctors offered up their cabin; Sheldon said they might just stay there.
One thing is for sure, though- this is one of many stories that will come out of this wildfire emergency that had a happy ending with the help of paramedics and other dedicated health partners.
Mom Amber and baby Ava were transported from Williams Lake to hospitals in Quesnel and then Prince George because of the wildfires.