Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Tale of a Local Wonderwoman
from the Dayton Daily News

KETTERING | Reality TV's Survivor and The Amazing Race have nothing on Debbie Coleman's incredible feat.

It all started early Tuesday, just after midnight, at the CitGo All-In-1 service station on James H. McGee Boulevard, when a woman ran inside the store and told part-owner Lloyd Goff a customer was in labor at Pump 7.

Goff, 33, ran to assist Coleman, who was sitting in her 1984 silver Chevy van. The driver's door was open and inside was Coleman, 34, in obvious pain. She was on her way to Kettering Memorial Hospital from her home in Trotwood.

"I asked if she needed help," Goff said, "and she just leaned back in the seat, hollered a little, and I looked down and there was the baby's head."

Goff called 911, but before a medic could arrive, "(Coleman) threw her leg over the steering wheel, groaned once, and the rest of the baby came out. She caught that baby, put it to her chest, gave me a look, like, 'I gotta go,' closed the door, put the van in gear and away she went."

Goff, who watched his own son's birth and cut the umbilical cord, said, "That was nothing like this. This was amazing."

Somehow, Coleman, undressed from the waist down and with the baby still attached by his umbilical cord, held the newborn in the crook of her left arm, and steered with her right hand as she slowly navigated the roughly 7-mile, 15-minute drive from the filling station in West Dayton onto U.S. 35 East and Interstate 75 South, then exited on Springboro Pike.

Daughters Erin, 4, and Elaine, 3, were in the van, but they slept through the entire ordeal.

Here's where it gets weird.

Dayton police were dispatched after a driver at the gas station called and was following the van to make sure Coleman was OK. They somehow got the wrong license plate number on Coleman's van, and it came back stolen.

Moraine police were called and were told the van was approaching from Spingboro Pike onto West Dorothy Lane.

Their officers followed the van, now with a corrected license plate registered to Coleman. But there had been reports that while on U.S. 35, the driver was erroneously thought to be attempting to throw a baby from the van.

Coleman, who had wrapped her jacket over the baby now nestled to her bosom, said she noticed as many as four police cruisers "busted a U-ie" and were following her. "I kept pulling over, making sure (the baby) was all right, breathing," she said.

Officers "activated our emergency lights in the area of West Dorothy Lane and Governors Place," according to the police report Moraine police filed. "The van wouldn't stop and continued traveling east." Sirens were turned on and Coleman continued, traveling about 30 mph, according to the report.

"I saw the little blue sign" at Southern Boulevard, Coleman said, and she turned on her signal. Cruisers surrounded her, she said, "and I heard, 'Get out of the car now with your hands up' and their guns were drawn. I opened the door and said, 'I just had a baby' and just let them see everything. I thought, what if they stop me for fleeing and eluding?"

Moraine police Sgt. Chris Selby said when Coleman opened the door, he could see the baby still had part of the placenta on its head, "and I'd seen both my kids born, but I said, 'What the hell?' "

According to the police report, Coleman "apologized and asked if she was in trouble," before officers quickly flagged her on, advising Kettering Memorial Hospital by radio that she was near and in need of emergency treatment.

The hospital released Coleman on Wednesday. Her son, Richard Lee Coleman Jr., who weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces, remains in intensive care. Her husband, Richard Lee Coleman Sr., was joined at the hospital by the couple's daughter, Elon, 8, and Debbie Coleman's 13-year-old son, Earl.

The Colemans said Good Samaritan or Miami Valley hospitals would have been much closer for the birth, but neither accepts Blue Cross/Blue Shield/Anthem insurance, which is what the couple carry.

According to Nancy Thickel, Miami Valley Hospital's director of communications, Coleman could have gone to either hospital through an arrangement for already established patients who were due to give birth through June 30.

"We would have loved to have taken care of her," Thickel said, noting that Anthem patients can use the hospital's services in any medical emergency situation.

"She needs the mother of the year award," Thickel said.

Selby said, "In 10 years of doing this, it's nothing I've come across before. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It was just good nobody got hurt. It's hard to believe she could do that while driving. It's just amazing."

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