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They're no doctors, but Red River Valley 911 dispatchers are helping deliver babies

The coveted Stork Pin given to those who assist families through childbirth. Only 13 have been awarded in the past five years.

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Red River Regional Dispatch Center telecommunications operator Amy Stoa is holding a stork pin. Stork Pins are presented when a communication operator provides emergency medical dispatch childbirth instructions for delivery of a baby before responders arrive on scene. Stoa helped a young woman complete the delivery of her baby. Chris Flynn / The Forum
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FARGO — Red River Regional Dispatch Center dispatcher Amy Stoa said there's one award that everyone really wants.

It's the Stork Pin.

What that means is that a trained dispatcher, or communications operator as they are also called, helped deliver a baby.

It happens more than one might think, but it's still fairly rare. Stoa is the only dispatcher so far this year to earn the honor as she helped a young woman complete the delivery of her baby.

A mother phoned 911 that night and reported to Stoa that her daughter was having her baby and the baby's head was sticking out. Stoa, who along with the other 35 dispatchers are trained in helping with deliveries, quickly called the Sanford Ambulance and the Cass County Sheriff's Office to alert them to the situation.

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When she came back to the call, the birth in rural Cass County had already occurred. Stoa then calmly explained post-delivery measures, including keeping the baby and mother warm and making sure the baby was crying and breathing. The umbilical cord also needed to be addressed, with instructions calling for a string to be attached to it until first responders arrive.

She also told the daughter, mother and grandmother who were together at the childbirth that the ambulance would be there within 10 minutes. She was amazed at how calm the mother and grandmother remained.

"The stork pin is really sought after," said Stoa, who has been a dispatcher for five years. One of her co-workers, who has been a dispatcher for about 10 years, badly wants one but hasn't had the opportunity to take the call.

"I feel lucky," Stoa said, adding that knowing the work she did helps someone through a tough situation is one of the most gratifying aspects of her job.

Rare honors

It wasn't the first time Stoa earned an award. The Hawley, Minnesota, native who plans to continue her career at the center in downtown Fargo also possesses a Life Saver pin. Those pins are given mostly when a dispatcher leads a caller or bystander through applying cardio-pulmonary resuscitation to someone in need.

In that instance in 2017, Stoa said she received a call from a man who said his neighbor was underneath a vehicle and apparently wasn't breathing. She led the caller through CPR and was credited with helping save the man's life as first responders quickly arrived shortly thereafter.

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Dispatchers are trained in how to walk a caller through the life-saving procedure as well as some other medical situations.

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On the left is a stork pin and on the right is a life saver award pin. Stork pins are presented when a Red River Regional Dispatch Center communication operator provides emergency medical dispatch childbirth instructions for delivery of baby before responders arrive on scene. Life saver pins are presented when a communications operator provides pre-arrival CPR instructions and the patient survives. Chris Flynn / The Forum

Dispatch Center Director Mary Phillippi said seven of their current dispatchers or communication operators have both a Life Saver and Stork Pin awards.

Illustrating how rare help with baby deliveries can be, Phillipi said only 13 Stork Pins have been awarded in the past five years. Four were given in 2017, 2019 and 2020, though none were given in 2018. Stoa, who will officially receive her pin at a meeting of all dispatchers, is the only one with the award so far in 2021.

Phillippi explained that if the baby is born before first responders arrive on the scene, the dispatcher is given the pin.

For the Life Saver award, Phillippi said most often it's awarded when a dispatcher gives CPR instructions to bystanders. To get the honor, the patient has to be known to have survived. She said sometimes the dispatching staff doesn't know the outcome, so an award isn't given.

"Time is of the essence during a cardiac arrest," Phillippi said about the need for CPR.

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In the past five years, there have been 12 Life Saver pins awarded, with two so far this year.

As a new way to recognize the staff's work, Phillippi said they have installed a "Tree of Life" on a wall in the dispatch center. The wall is adorned with silver leaves bearing the dispatcher's name and date of their assistance and gold leaves for Life Saver awards.

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Red River Regional Dispatch Center dispatcher Amy Stoa points to a "leaf" on the "Tree of Life" in the center's downtown building. The tree is way to recognize communication operators who who receive a Life Saver award or Stork Pin. Each gold leaf has the name of the communication operator and the date that they instructed a caller in CPR and the person survived. Each silver leaf has the name of the communication operator and the date that they provided childbirth instructions to a caller and baby was born. Chris Flynn / The Fourm

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Red River Regional Dispatch Center dispatcher Amy Stoa points to a "leaf" on the "Tree of Life" in the center's downtown building. The tree is way to recognize communication operators who who receive a Life Saver award or Stork Pin. Each gold leaf has the name of the communication operator and the date that they instructed a caller in CPR and the person survived. Each silver leaf has the name of the communication operator and the date that they provided childbirth instructions to a caller and baby was born. Chris Flynn / The Fourm

Related Topics: WELLNESSFARGO
An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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