JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
When U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Travis Shaw left for work the morning of Aug. 9, he couldn’t have imagined that just hours later, his combat lifesaving skills would be tested in an emergency situation most pararescue specialists don’t traditionally encounter.
But rather than treating a service member on the battlefield, Shaw found himself helping his wife deliver their daughter, Clara Elyse, at the bottom of the staircase in their home in Yorktown, Virginia.
Up until that day, Shaw, assigned to Air Combat Command, had never delivered a baby before. Pararescue specialists, or PJs, receive some obstetrics and gynecology experience during paramedic training, but their primary focus is on trauma relating to search, rescue, and personnel recovery, said Shaw.
“I think most PJs would say that they are probably a lot more comfortable treating someone who has had two legs blasted off rather than delivering a baby. That’s my bread and butter, and I’m very comfortable with that,” he said. “I’ve had a little bit of OB-GYN experience while going through paramedic training, but that was about 10 years ago. But it’s funny how it all comes back to you.”
And with only 10 minutes elapsing from when his wife Shalina’s water broke to when baby Clara was born, those skills had to come back quickly. Shaw decided to only work a few hours that morning rather than a whole day, and it was only 30 minutes prior to delivery that Shaw called the hospital to notify them of her sporadic contractions.
“It went from just sort of irregular here and there to really strong, it’s happening right now,” said Shalina.
“And about 5 to 10 minutes later, [Shalina] had a strong contraction and her water broke,” said Shaw.
Even though Shaw called 911, it was clear to him from the increase in Shalina’s contractions that Clara was not going to wait for emergency medical technicians to arrive.
“Right after that, I rushed down to put the bags in the car, anticipating that we were going to leave soon,” said Shaw. “She had another contraction while I was down here, and I went up and brought her down the stairs and literally we got right here,” said Shaw, gesturing to the bottom of the stairs, “and she said ‘It’s coming right now!’”
“And she came right out,” said Shalina.
Luckily Shalina’s mother was visiting and began helping Shaw where she could, which entailed grabbing towels and keeping the couple’s 3-year-old son Nolan away from the commotion.
After delivering Clara, Shaw set her down on a blanket and waited for emergency medical services to arrive. He was initially concerned about Clara’s breathing due to some mucous in her mouth, and when EMS came, Shaw’s emergency medical instincts were still in full swing.
“I was in ‘PJ mode’ – I’d say 80 percent PJ, 20 percent dad,” he said. “I started barking orders at [EMS], ‘I need some [oxygen] and some suction!’ They were giving me this funny look, and one of the medics asked, ‘Are you the dad?’ They actually thought I was a provider from one of the other fire stations.”
Three weeks have passed since baby Clara’s birth in the family’s home, and both Shaw and Shalina say the events of that day are still very vivid. Even though delivering Clara in the hospital would have been more ideal, Shalina said she was completely comfortable with the situation.
“Knowing he has the medical background that he has, and the abilities to assess the situation and make sure everything is alright…I just sort of expect that from you, to be commanding and know what you are doing, so it wasn’t surprising to me,” said Shalina as she looked at her husband. “I have complete trust in his abilities, so I was never worried about anything.”
Shaw echoed his wife’s sentiments.
“When I went through my paramedic training to become a PJ, I was thinking the training would be mostly for my brothers and sisters in arms. I feel real fortunate that the Air Force has given me the opportunity to have all [those] skills and knowledge, because it definitely came in handy here,” said Shaw. “[Clara] turned out just fine. That’s the most important part, and so that when you look back on it, now we have a cool story to tell.”