Springfield firefighters play storks, angels on I-78

Photo Courtesy of Anuj Desai
Vandhana and Anuj Desai with their newborn daughter Sonia at Morristown Medical Center.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Storks and angels can find you anywhere, even on the front seat of a car on Interstate 78 in morning rush-hour traffic.

That’s what Anuj and Vandhana Desai learned the morning of March 20, when Springfield fire Chief Carlo Palumbo and Capt. Michael Mastroeni arrived in the nick of time to deliver their baby girl on the shoulder of I-78 at milepost 50.2.

The Desais were trying to make their way from their home in Hoboken to Morristown Medical Center, where Vandhana Desai is a physician and was planning to have her baby, her husband Anuj said in an April 2 phone interview.

After Vandhana Desai had experienced false labor about five days earlier, her doctor didn’t seem too concerned when the couple called about 6:30 a.m. on March 20 to say she was having contractions.
“‘Start making your way to the hospital, he said,’” Anuj Desai recalled. “‘You’ve got a ways to go.’”

After getting their nearly 3-year-old daughter, Diya, to her nanny, it was about 7:20 a.m. when the Desais started heading to Morristown Medical Center.
Traffic was building and, by the time they passed Newark Airport, “We didn’t know if we were going to make it,” Anuj Desai said.
They started checking how quickly they could get to Overlook Hospital in Summit, or to a hospital in Bayonne.
“But there was no time to go anywhere,” he said.

Vandhana Desai’s doctor suggested calling 9-1-1 for a police escort.
“Two cops were the first to get there and we told them we weren’t sure we were going to make it, but my wife wants to get there, because she’s a physician and she knows what can go wrong,” Anuj Desai said.

“We got off the main road, and it was ‘Oh my God, it’s happening.’ Her legs were up on dashboard, we could see the head crowning, the fire department pulled up, and they acted like they knew what they were doing, and they delivered baby within five minutes.”

According to a release from the Springfield Fire Department, Mastroeni began to coach Vandhana Desai, preparing to deliver the baby. During the delivery, the umbilical cord became wrapped around the baby’s neck, but Mastroeni was able to remove the cord and continue assisting with the delivery.

When the final push came, the baby was delivered and Palumbo clamped and cut the umbilical cord. The baby girl was immediately wrapped in towels and blankets and stimulated to aid her breathing, the release said. The baby let out two cries and then was quickly moved to a heated ambulance, which transported baby and mother to Morristown Memorial Hospital.

“The ambulance came right as the delivery was happening,” Anuj said. “It was really cold, and I was concerned about the baby being too cold.”
The little girl, Sonia, weighed in at 6 pounds, and both she and her mother are doing fine.
The experience came despite the Desais having supposedly prepared for the worst.

With one of the four March nor’easters expected to strike during the night of March 20, Anuj Desai had booked a hotel for two nights in the Morristown area in anticipation of the snow making transportation to Morristown difficult, if not impossible.

“From the first contraction to delivery was about one hour, 40 minutes,” he said. “From Hoboken to Morristown is 40-45 minutes on a good day.
“We were expecting big storm, so I booked a hotel room close to the hospital. My wife was not due until March 31.”