The contractions started around 10 p.m. Friday.
It was the height of the blizzard. Heavy snow was blasting sideways in gusts over 60 mph. The whiteouts were so bad that even ambulances and firetrucks were getting stuck.
Erica and Davon Thomas' baby was due on Sunday, Christmas Day, but as Friday night turned to Saturday and Erica's contractions grew closer together, it became clear their first child was going to make an early entrance.
Erica and Davon live on Lisbon Avenue, near Eggert Road in the University District of Buffalo. They didn't know how they would make the 5-mile trip to Oishei Children's Hospital where they had planned to have the birth.
They had not lost power, but they were snowbound.
Davon Thomas, a sanitation worker for Modern Disposal, called 911.
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"They kept telling me that due to the inclement weather, they couldn't get to us," he said in a phone interview.
He kept calling. The dispatchers told Davon that they had tried multiple times to get a first responder to them, but they couldn't.
By about 11:30 a.m., the contractions were three minutes apart. Davon started to panic, he said. Erica was "angry and emotional."
"At that point, I was like: 'This is going to be me. I'm going to have to put my big boy pants on and figure this out,' " Davon said.
Davon Thomas turned to a good friend, Jeter Neville Jr., for help.
"Bro, I'm in trouble," he told Neville. Like hundreds of other people have done through the storm, Neville turned to the Buffalo Blizzard 2022 Facebook group to try to get some help for Erica and Davon.
Soon, Davon's phone was blowing up with texts, calls video chats from people offering advice: Get lots of towels. Boil water. Get some string to tie the baby's umbilical cord.
Davon learned about a doula who was offering her help in the Facebook group. He got on the phone with Raymonda Reynolds.
Having assisted in many births, Reynolds thought that as a first-time mother, even though the contractions were close together, the birth could still be hours away, Reynolds said.
"But I could hear her in the background," Reynolds said in a phone interview. Erica Thomas was clearly in agony.
"Why don't you 'friend' me and we can video chat," Reynolds said.
Reynolds told Davon Thomas what he needed to do to get ready – towels, hot water and a bowl – and she did all she could to keep Erica Thomas calm.
"You've got this," she told her, in her calm and steady voice. "It's OK. It's going to be OK."
Reynolds kept reassuring her over and over. "This is something we're built to do. Listen to your body. Listen to your body."
She encouraged Erica Thomas to keep moving around as much as possible and let gravity help the process. She had her take a hot shower to help relieve her pain.
Reynolds reached out to a friend of hers, Iva Michelle Blackburn, who is a doula and medical nurse, and she got on the video chat too.
Then a little before 3:30 p.m., Erica Thomas yelled: "It's burning!"
She said she felt hot, and then she said she had chills.
Reynolds knew: The birth was about to happen.
Reynolds told Davon Thomas to get a flashlight to try to see what was happening.
Davon Thomas put his phone down on the living room floor. The doulas were waiting to hear from him, unable to see what was happening.
"Oh my God, the baby's crowning!" Erica Thomas yelled. Then she let out a primal moan.
Erica squatted down and Davon held a stack of towels underneath her, Davon Thomas said.
"She just made one more big push and boom she came right out," he said.
Davon Thomas caught the baby in the towels in his arms.
The baby wasn't crying but she was alert.
"She just looked at both of us," Davon Thomas said. "She just gave us a look like, 'Well, I'm here,' " Davon Thomas said.
"She's here!" screamed Erica Thomas.
The doulas both screamed with joy and Davon Thomas picked up his phone.
Reynolds told him to pick up the baby, wrap her in a blanket and put her on her mother.
The baby let out a healthy cry. So did the parents and doulas as they welcomed Devynn Briell Thomas to the world at 3:31 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, weighing 6 pounds, 9 ounces and measuring 20 inches long.
Reynolds and Blackburn coached the parents on all the things they needed to do next.
The new parents spent the rest of the day in a state of shock over the ordeal. Then well before dawn on Christmas morning, Davon Thomas got a call: A woman said her husband would be at their house with his truck in an hour and would take them to the hospital.
Angel Lugo couldn't get his truck down the street. So he trudged down to the Thomas house and then the Thomases, cradling baby Devynn, made their way through knee-high snow over two blocks to Lugo's truck.
When they arrived at Children's, the nurses were ready and waiting. Lugo's wife had called to say they were on their way. They whisked Erica Thomas and Devynn away in a wheelchair.
By Christmas night, they were all settled in a recovery room.
Davon Thomas, in the phone interview from the hospital, said he was overwhelmed with the kindness and support he received throughout the ordeal – especially from Reynolds, Blackburn and Lugo.
"Buffalo is called the City of Good Neighbors for a good reason," he said.
Reynolds marveled at how modern technology had made it all possible.
"I wish I could have gotten to them. Of course nobody could get to them," Reynolds said. "I think it was really great that we have this modality of helping. Twenty years ago we had no video chat. And even though Facebook can be messy sometimes, it's amazing what we can do when it's time to help somebody. ... It was so great. It was a great Christmas."