Constable: 'Miracle on the tarmac' baby turning 30
Thirty years ago Sunday, Harry and Lynne Nozicka of Glenview were shopping for island hats to protect them from the sun on their "last hurrah" vacation three months before the birth of their first child. They never got a chance to wear them.
Lynne went into labor on the blistering hot tarmac of a Jamaican airport, and gave birth 24 weeks into her pregnancy to a tiny baby girl they named Ava. The newborn was immediately flown to a hospital in Florida while her stunned and worried parents remained on the tarmac.
"It's so crazy that it happened, but I'm just a miracle," says Ava, who plans to spend her 30th birthday this week by inviting a few friends over to the Palatine home where she lives with her parents.
When she was born, her parents weren't sure she'd live through the day.
"She was the size of a Barbie doll," Lynne says, noting that nurses later would dress her in doll's clothes.
Lynne knew something was wrong on their first morning in Jamaica. "I went to the front desk and told them I needed a doctor," she remembers. They sent her to a medical clinic in St. Ann's Bay that was so primitive, the lighting was a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and there were no sheets on the beds.
"There were lines of Jamaican women waiting," Harry says.
"It was so hot in there. I had to move back and forth because the floor was so hot," Lynne remembers.
Unable to fly back to the United States in her condition, Lynne used the vacation insurance policy she bought to bring a Lear jet air ambulance to the Montego Bay airport for her trip home. On the hot tarmac where temperatures topped 100 degrees, the I.V. bag keeping Lynne hydrated was running out, and the medical staff had no more.
"I left in a golf cart to get more drip," Harry says.
"Then all hell broke loose," Lynne says. "They said, 'The baby's coming,' and they put me into the Lear jet. And she came."
Lynne got a glimpse of Ava, who weighed just 1 pound 14 ounces. She credits pilot John Valentine and nurses Cheryl Alley and Cindy King with keeping her baby alive.
"They put me on the tarmac again, and then they took off with Ava," Lynn says. "We didn't get to see her."
The jet rushed Ava to a hospital in Hollywood, Florida.
"It was very traumatic," says Harry, who got his first Father's Day card from the nurses three months before he had a chance to hold his daughter.
A crew from the TV show "Rescue 911" wanted the couple to reenact the drama for an episode, but the Nozickas declined, as they were far more concerned about Ava. The baby had food intolerances and pneumonia. She needed numerous blood transfusions, and had trouble breathing. The medical staff told them every day "how many times they had to shake her to breathe," Harry says.
Ava's weight fell to 500 grams, barely more than a pound, Lynne says.
The new parents stayed with relatives in Florida, but eventually returned home and made periodic trips to Florida to see their daughter. Ava remained in the Florida hospital's intensive care unit until Aug. 6, when the same flight crew flew her back to Chicago and an ambulance delivered her to Evanston Hospital.
"We didn't get to hold her until she came to Evanston," Harry says. Even then, Ava wasn't making much progress. She weighed 3 pounds, 9 ounces, and Kim Irvin, a nurse who took excellent care of Ava, suggested she might do better at home, Lynne says. So the Nozickas signed her out.
That was Sept. 24, Lynne's original due date. The family kept a heart monitor on her for a while, and Ava got eight months of occupational therapy. But she fully recovered from her rough beginning.
Ava played soccer as a girl, and played clarinet at Fremd High School, where she graduated in 2010. At the age of 16, she started working at Starbucks, and worked throughout high school and college. Ava graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 2014, where she worked as an on-air radio personality. She is now a customer success specialist for a technology company.
Since 1978, Harry, a licensed clinical social worker, has run a psychotherapist practice in Highland Park, and was the first clinician in Illinois to be certified in brainspotting, a mindfulness-based therapy that targets neurological pathways in the brain. Lynne, who had a career as a model and still does some modeling, is a success coach, wellness practitioner and certified hypnotherapist. They both work for the Nozicka Center for Hypnosis and Psychotherapy.
Lynne says her birthing experience led to her career as a hypnotherapist. She hadn't had the traditional Lamaze birthing class before she gave birth, so she figured out a way to handle the pain on her own. "That's probably how I decided to get into that field," she says. She focused on soothing images and colors, and imagined her body floating as she gave birth without an epidural.
As traumatic as that birth experience was, Harry, Lynne and Ava say they handled that stress and are doing well today. So well, in fact, that the family is thinking about taking a vacation in the spring -- to Jamaica. This time, they hope to get lots of use out of their island hats.