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A new life on the final day of the old Children's Hospital

Dezshina Scott's doctor told her Thursday morning that although her due date was in two days, it didn't look like she would deliver her baby until the next week.

The doctor said to plan on going to the new Oishei Children's Hospital.

Her baby had other plans.

At about 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Scott woke up in great discomfort. Within an hour, her contractions were two to three minutes apart.

Her family rushed her to Women and Children's Hospital, where she became a part of the 125-year-old Buffalo institution's history.

On Friday, the gleaming new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital opened its doors to patients on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

On the same day, all 125 patients from the old hospital in Elmwood Village were transported, one by one, via ambulance to the new hospital in a meticulously orchestrated undertaking. In the meantime, the old Children's Hospital was open for one final day and had to be ready for any kind of emergency. Including a woman in labor.

219 Bryant

Turn -of-the-century photograph of Children’s Hospital nursery. Babies were kept in bassinet-like beds hooked to the walls. (News file photo)

Children's Hospital started with 12 beds in a two-story house at 219 Bryant St. in 1892, the same spot where the old Women and Children's Hospital was later built.

An old black-and-white photo from the Buffalo News archives from the turn-of-the century shows what the nursery looked like then: Basket-like bassinets hang from an attachment on the wall. There's a clipboard on the wall for each bassinet. A nurse in a white dress and nurse's cap sits at a desk in the middle of the room.

The first maternity ward at Children's opened in 1928, and over the decades that followed, medicine, technology and attitudes evolved.

Epidurals helped ease the agony of contractions. Dads went from waiting nervously in the waiting room to playing active roles in the birthing. New machines and treatments gave tiny babies born months too early a chance at survival.

Donna Alessi, a neonatal nurse, recalled the early days in her 45-year career in Buffalo, when there was little that could be done for sick newborn babies.

“I remember sitting there – and it would be any of us – with a baby who had a heartbeat, and there was nothing we could do," Alessi said. "Now we save them. They go to school. They go to college.”

45-year Children's Hospital nurse looks forward to a big move — and more miracles

The Children's campus grew over the years, with new buildings and multiple renovations. In 1982, work on the top eight floors of the 10-story Variety Tower was completed – a new wing where most of the hospital's inpatient services, including maternity care, were to be housed.

Barbara Ellis of West Seneca remembers being wheeled into the new Labor and Delivery unit on the third floor on its opening day: Dec. 1, 1982.

"It was so nice and new and pretty," she said in an interview last week.

But the maternity ward wasn't quite ready.

"There were no sheets on the beds yet," Ellis said. "The nursing were running around. … They were all upset."

[PHOTO GALLERY: One of the last babies born at Women and Children's Hospital]

She and her husband, Theodore, took in all in stride.

"All we did was laugh," Barb Ellis said.

Her husband was especially happy about the giant TV in the waiting room.

As they waited for her C-section, hospital staff peeked into their room, apparently trying to figure out if Barb Ellis would be the first to give birth in the modern wing.

She was. Her son, James Herman Ellis, was born at 3:08 p.m.

Barbara Ellis holding her baby, James, who was the first baby born in the new wing of Children's Hospital on Dec. 1, 1982. (News file photo)

Barb Ellis remembers waking up in the recovery room and quickly being surrounded by photographers.

James Ellis still has the faded yellow clipping from The Buffalo Evening News. The photo shows his mother in a hospital bed wearing unmistakably 1980s-era glasses and a frizzy perm as she proudly holds up newborn James swaddled in a blanket.

"I used to take that article to school as something interesting in my life," James Ellis said. "That's a story nobody else can have."

Nearly 35 years later, mom and baby, now a grandma and dad, are excited about the new hospital.

James Ellis, now of Cheektowaga, said he's a little sad to say goodbye to the old Children's.

"But it's a step forward to bring better care and new technology. That's always a good thing."

His mother agreed: "Anything new is nice."

James Ellis, the first child born at Women and Children's Hospital new wing in 1982, stands with his mother, Barb Ellis, at his home in Cheektowaga. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

A slowing heartbeat

Thursday night turned to Friday morning last week, as Dezshina Scott's labor was progressing. One other woman was in active labor.

Scott's mother, Kim Thomas; her aunt, Kara Price; and the baby's father, Deurell Brown, were there on the third floor with her.

Thomas later explained that her daughter – her only child – was her miracle baby.

"My doctor told me I would never have kids," Thomas said. "She came along 12 years later."

Price, who was with her sister for the delivery at Sisters Hospital, remembered seeing Scott for the first time.

"She was my 'Punkin' Pie,' " Price said of the round-faced baby. It's a nickname that has stuck, much to Scott's dismay.

After the sun rose and the hospital's first patients were being prepped to be taken to the new hospital and workers were carting away supplies, a monitor showed that Scott's baby's heartbeat was slowing.

Scott was going to have an emergency C-section.

"People started flying into the room," Thomas said. "They were moving pretty quickly."

The operation was over in less than two minutes.

Deuron Jake Brown was born at 7:51 a.m. weighing a healthy 7 pounds 10 ounces.

Deuron Jake Brown, 7 lbs. 10 oz, was one of the last babies to be born at Women and Children's Hospital. He was born at 7:51 a.m. to Dezshina Scott, 21, of Buffalo in an emergency c-section, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Here, they are in the recovery room on the maternity ward. They were transported to the new hospital at about 12:30 p.m. They were the second to last mother and baby to physically leave the hospital. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

He was the second to last baby to be born at 219 Bryant St. on its last day of operation.

An hour and a half later, the very last baby to be born at the old hospital arrived. Baby Niana, a girl, was born at 9:05 a.m.

Baby Niana rests in her mother's arms at John R. Oishei Children's Hospital,Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017. She was the last baby to be born at Women and Children's Hospital on Firday November 10 at 9:05 a.m. She weighed 6 lbs, 2 oz. He mother is a Buffalo resident. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)


No one's quite sure just how many babies have been born at 219 Bryant Street.

But at its modern wing — the one James Ellis ushered in — roughly 3,000 babies were born every year, about 10 a day, according to Kaleida Health officials.

Among the many remarkable births and babies over the last century at Children's was that of Bridgett Maskell of Lockport. On Oct. 1, 2009, she gave birth to quintuplets, believed to be the only quints born in modern Western New York history.

Specialists warned Maskell and her husband, John Mistalski, that there was only a 30 percent chance that all five babies would survive. They gave her the option of a procedure known as "reduction" to remove some of the fetuses. Maskell decided to keep them all.

"It's a chance I'm going to have to take," she remembered thinking.

At 24 weeks, Maskell started bleeding, and her sister drove her to the hospital. Doctors were able to keep her from going into labor for a week.

The staff all seemed excited about the historic birth, Maskell said.

"They had a signup sheet in the nurse's station for my delivery," she said. "Everyone wanted to be a part of it."

A team of four to five doctors and nurses was standing by for each baby.

Bridgett Maskell holds her tiny daughter, 10-week-old Anna Belle Maskell, at Women and Children's Hospital. She was one of the quintuplets born Oct. 1, 2009. (Provided by Bridgett Maskell)

The first, Kayla Maskell, was born at 1:54 p.m. Last was Anna Belle Maskell, who was born at 2 p.m. on the dot. Tyler Mistalski was the smallest, weighing just 12 ounces. Ramona Maskell was the biggest at 1 pound 11 ounces. Justin Mistalski and Anna Belle both weighed 1 pound 9 ounces. The girls got their mother's last name, and the boys got their dad's.

They were whisked away instantly, their tiny bodies too fragile to hold just yet.

Kayla lived only 17 days. Her kidneys failed and then so did the rest of her organs.

"If she would have been older, she would have been on dialysis," Maskell said.

The other babies survived. Tyler, Justin and Anna Bell had cerebral palsy, which would affect their development.

Maskell was well enough to go home after three weeks, and she and her husband spent the next five months going back and forth from the hospital and to their jobs at Walmart stores.

Justin and Anna Belle came home at the end of February. Tyler and Ramona weren't ready until the end of March.

She is grateful for the care she and her babies got at Children's.

"The staff is amazing," she said. "They really did take care of whatever I needed."

Today, they are 8 and in the third grade. Maskell is a single mom. Her husband died two years ago of a blood clot. She has "someone new" in her life, and they just had a baby, a little boy. She also has twins who are eight years older than the quintuplets.

The quints still see specialists, and Maskell is thrilled about the new Oishei Children's Hospital.

Getting Anna Belle, who uses a wheelchair, to the neurologist's office at the old hospital involved taking the elevator up in an adjacent building and then going through back hallways. The developmental care office, where all four kids went, was tiny and wasn't equipped to weigh Anna Belle in her wheelchair, Maskell said.

"You kind of take those things for granted," she said. She's been told the new offices will be much more accessible. "I am excited."

Bridgett Maskell with her children, from left, Tyler Mistalski; Ramona Maskell; Justin Mistalski; and Anna Belle Maskell. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

"I'm in love"

By noon Friday, Dezshina Scott had awoken from her anesthesia, and she held her new son, wrapped up in a white cotton swaddling cloth with blue and pink stripes, the same kind used in virtually every hospital across the country. A pale blue knit cap was on his head. He cooed and even seemed to smile a couple of times.

"I'm in love," Scott said, staring down at her baby.

A Bennett High School graduate, Scott was looking forward to spending time with her baby while on maternity leave from her job as a manager at the Save-a-lot at the Broadway Market.

"He's a very calm baby," said Ulrike Potzler, a delivery room nurse.

"So was she," Price said of her niece.

Deuron's father was excited that his son's birth was part of a historic moment.

"He was supposed to be born at the new one," Brown said. "I'm happy."

At 12:15 p.m., it was time for Scott and baby Deuron to take an ambulance ride to Oishei. Over at the new hospital, the first baby was born as 12:12 p.m.

A team of paramedics brought a gurney into the recovery room and the nurses began laying extra blankets across it. It was 22 degrees outside at the time.

Scott said she was a little nervous.

"Because it's cold," she said.

"We're going to bundle you up," assured another nurse, Caroline Novotny-Schulefand.

The last shift

Nurse Caroline Novotny-Schulefand prepares for Dezshina Scott and her newborn son, Deuron Brown, to be transported to the new hospital Nov. 10. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Novotny-Schulefand arrived for her last shift at 219 Bryant at 4:30 a.m.  Friday. She had worked until 10 p.m. the night before, first at the old hospital and then at Oishei to make sure everything was ready.

"This has been a very busy week here," she said.

At the 5 p.m. huddle the night before, there were about seven patients at Labor and Delivery.

"Either they delivered and went up to Mother/Baby, or if they were outpatients, they may have gone home," Novotny-Schulefand said.

By the morning, just two remained, including Scott.

"On the last day, it was nice to have those two deliveries," Novotny-Schulefand said.

But after working 34 years at Labor and Delivery, her eyes filled with tears.

"As I walked from room to room," she said, "there are so many memories. So many babies that took care of. And the moms. This is hard."

Diane Lattimer, who has worked 45 years in Labor and Delivery, recalled working during the Blizzard of '77.

"I was pregnant with my first daughter during the blizzard," she said.

Diane Lattimer and the rest of the maternity ward staff relaxed for a few minutes after all the patients had been taken to the new John Oishei Children's Hopsital. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Over the years, she also worked in high-risk maternity as well as in bereavement for women who lost their babies.

"They deserve the best care."

'Thank you'

As the nurses and paramedics were pushing Scott's gurney and Deuron's cart out of the room to the elevator, Kara Price stood up and announced she had something to say.

She could have been speaking for the tens of thousands of new moms and dads, grandpas and grandmas, aunts and uncles, cousins and best friends who have rushed to, worried and then celebrated at the third floor of 219 Bryant to witness a woman became a mother — and a new life was brought into this world.

"To all the doctors and nurses, you all took great care of my Punkin' Pie and my nephew," Price said in a booming voice. "Thank you."

Patricia Gaffney gets Deuron Jake Brown ready to be moved to the new hospital. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

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