WALLINGFORD — Kristina Church didn’t know or care that Veterans Memorial Medical Center was scheduled to close for good on her birthday Sept. 29, 1998.
Her mother, Cheryl Church, was set to deliver her by cesarean section several days later at the new MidState Medical Center. But Kristina had other plans, and Cheryl Church went into labor late Sept. 28.
“I knew they were closing it, but I didn’t know when.,” Cheryl Church said. “I was supposed to go in for blood work, but there were labor pains. I went to (Veterans Memorial Medical Center) at about 10 p.m. They couldn’t turn me away. She was born soon after midnight. She was the last baby born there.”
Kristina was delivered by Dr. Vincent H. Pepe who, like other practicing physicians, performed his final surgery at Veterans Memorial Medical Center that day before transitioning to the new $74 million hospital.
“The baby is going to come when it wants to, it doesn’t go on a building schedule.” Pepe said this week.
After a healthy delivery at VMMC, Cheryl Church woke up in the recovery room that morning to learn she and Kristina were being moved to MidState, which had opened for patients.
“I didn’t know that until the morning,” Church said. “The next morning they did this. I was still groggy. It was around 10 a.m., they were sending everyone to the new hospital.”
Mother and daughter left Cook Avenue and traveled by different ambulances to Lewis Avenue. Throughout the day, patients from Cook Avenue were moved to the new hospital until VMMC closed for good when the final emergency room patient left late in the afternoon. Planned surgeries were scheduled when the new hospital opened, but emergencies and births were wildcards.
Kristina was already in the MidState nursery when Cheryl Church was wheeled into her private room.
“She wasn’t there, I had to ask for her,” Church said.
They were soon reunited in MidState’s new delivery suite and soon another mother arrived at the hospital to give birth to a daughter who would become the first baby born at MidState.
“They gave us both a dozen red roses, and six months of formula,” Cheryl Church said. “It was very nice.”
Pepe and other practicing physicians had a hand in designing the maternity suite and had done walk throughs, so they were familiar with the layout.
“It was very nice,” Pepe said. “We were walking into a new model.”
Instead of labor and delivery in separate rooms and then transporting the mother into a postpartum room, the new design kept the mothers with the baby to allow for better bonding, he said.
A reporter and photographer from the Record-Journal captured the births in a news story about the new hospital opening. Someone laminated a copy and gave it to Church as a keepsake.
“You made your first newspaper story,” Cheryl Church told Kristrina, who turns 20 on Sept. 29.