Health

Evacuated during labor: Mom leaves smoke-filled hospital as baby is on his way

Adrian Dodger Veum was born Monday evening via C-section after his mom, Nicole, was evacuated from the hospital during labor.
Adrian Dodger Veum was born Monday evening via C-section after his mom, Nicole, was evacuated from the hospital during labor.
April Dembosky/KQED

Nicole and Ben Veum had been waiting and waiting for their baby to arrive. Nicole's due date came and went. Her doctor called her into the hospital – Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital – to induce labor. That was Friday.

"So we were very excited at that point," she said. "And then day after day after day, with not a whole lot of progress."

They tried three different ways of inducing labor. Then, on the third day, with the third attempt, it started working.

"And then finally I am in a great rhythm," she said. "We're all excited. They're talking about breaking my water."

Her contractions were coming strong, every four to five minutes.

"Things are rolling," Ben said. "We're getting good checks from the nurses. We started to get in the mood to play some music – a little bit of opera."

They had just turned on Pavarotti when the hospital power went out. The generators came on. And the smoke outside the building started to creep inside.

"There was a ton of smoke in the hospital," Nicole said. "You could see it and smell it."

The nurses said the buildings around the hospital were on fire and they had to evacuate everyone. Eighty patients from Sutter and another 130 patients from Kaiser were transferred to other hospitals in the area on Monday, including Santa Rosa Memorial and Kaiser San Rafael. All Sutter patients were safely relocated to other hospitals, according to a statement from the hospital.

Nicole Veum had just received an epidural when the evacuation orders came through.

"I couldn't walk or move, which was just not cool," she said. "I didn't like that part. I felt really vulnerable."

The staff gave Nicole medication to stop her contractions.

"We were like 'Noooo.' It was the worst news," she said. "To have tried for three days and then O.K., here's the shot that's going to end all of that."

Then, Nicole had to wait again. For an ambulance.

It was hours before dawn, and Nicole lay on a gurney by the docking bay, feeling paralyzed, in a line of would-be evacuees. There were so many patients that needed to be transported, and by the time her turn came, she had to share the ride with another woman in labor and a third with a newborn in her arms. That left no room for her husband.

"The charge nurse explained that 'This is a disaster. We're following disaster protocol and no spouses or birth teams or anything are going along on the ambulance,'" Ben said. "And there was a part of me briefly that was like – but I'm a dad. I'm going to be a dad. This is us."

Ben waited for a bus, and was soon reunited with Nicole at Santa Rosa Memorial. But by that point, her labor was again at a standstill.

They gave it another 12 hours, then agreed to a C-section. Monday evening, Nicole gave birth to a healthy baby boy, named Adrian Veum. Their friends had some suggestions for a middle name.

"They wanted us to call him Adrian Fuego Veum, or Blaze Veum," she said.

But Nicole is a big Los Angeles baseball fan, and she and Ben decided to stick with their original name plan: Adrian Dodger Veum.

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