VITU, Papua New Guinea — We had just arrived in the bay off the island of Vitu, PNG, where we were going to be based for the following week. On board with us were several people from the West New Britain Provincial Health Authority. We had been working closely together during these outreaches in West New Britain.
Just after midnight, Helen (a local health worker, experienced midwife and maternal health nurse) and I were awoken to the news of a woman in labor on the other side of the island. Labor was not progressing properly, and mother and child were in distress.
Helen, I, and two other nurses got into a banana boat and traveled upriver forty-five minutes to the health center where the pregnant mother, Jacinta, was experiencing an obstructive labor. Due to the child’s size, Jacinta had been in labor for two days and the birth was not progressing in any way. Jacinta and the baby were in grave danger.
Helen did everything she could to assist in delivering the baby. She got the mom up and moving. She tried a vacuum delivery to try to pull the baby out since the heart rate had increased, indicating fetal distress. Nothing worked and the baby wasn’t shifting to the correct delivery position.
Helen stopped the delivery attempt along with any labor advancement to reduce the risk of the uterus rupturing which would have been fatal for the baby and mother.
Realization hit us. The baby would have to be delivered by cesarean. Unfortunately, we were a six-hour boat ride from Kimbe General Hospital where the cesarean could be performed. We needed a helicopter to transport Jacinta to the hospital.
It was now four in the morning. We had to wait until daybreak, so the helicopter could land safely. While we waited, we prayed and monitored Jacinta who was in a great deal of pain and her vital signs were failing.
Thankfully the helicopter arrived and airlifted Jacinta to Kimbe. At this point we didn’t believe the baby would survive. The baby had undergone severe distress and without an ultrasound machine and fetal doppler monitor, it was nearly impossible to know the baby’s condition.
Helen called ahead to the hospital to ensure the team was prepared to deliver the baby when Jacinta arrived. The baby was born alive and amazingly, both mother and child were fine after undergoing the life-threatening experience. Without an experienced midwife on board, and the many prayers from the crew and volunteers, I doubt if either of them would have survived.
By Ellie Gallienne
YWAM Ships Kona Medical Coordinator