A year ago, Avah Storm Murphy was born in Atrium Health’s Carolinas MED-1 mobile hospital. The emergency department on wheels was stationed in the Family Dollar parking lot in Pender County, North Carolina as the only operational hospital within a 50-mile radius when Hurricane Florence took direct aim at the Carolinas. Looking back on the one-year anniversary, Avah’s mother and her care team reflect on the miraculous delivery.

News | 26 days ago

While Her Birth During Florence Was Stormy, Today It’s All Sunshine and Smiles for Avah Storm

A year ago, Avah Storm Murphy was born in Atrium Health's Carolinas MED-1 mobile hospital. The emergency department on wheels was stationed in the Family Dollar parking lot in Pender County, North Carolina as the only operational hospital within a 50-mile radius when Hurricane Florence took direct aim at the Carolinas. Looking back on the one-year anniversary, Avah's mother and her care team reflect on the miraculous delivery. 

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence barreled towards the Carolinas as a Category 4 storm. By the time it reached the coast, Florence had weakened to a Category 1 storm, but continued to endanger surrounding areas with catastrophic and life-threatening flooding, and powerful wind gusts that caused hundreds of thousands to lose power.

With strapped resources, staff and electricity, patients were transferred from local hospitals in coastal areas, and away from the storm’s danger, while some facilities temporarily closed their doors. That’s when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called upon Atrium Health’s Carolinas MED-1 and its team to deploy the unique mobile hospital to Burgaw, NC, to provide temporary relief to those in need of medical assistance immediately following the storm. 

Delivery in a Family Dollar parking lot

Florence was wreaking havoc on the Carolinas — but this made no difference to Avah. She was ready to make her fashionably late entrance into the world. With no way of getting to a Wilmington Hospital, Keyana McIntyre and her family got in the car and headed to Atrium Healths Carolinas MED-1 mobile hospital in the parking lot of a Family Dollar in Pender County. When they arrived, Keyana was welcomed with open arms by the staff, who are always prepared for medical emergencies, including childbirth.

Delivery can often be unpredictable, but delivering a baby under these conditions was uniquely overwhelming. As rain pelted down and wind battered the sides of the mobile hospital, Keyana turned to her nurse knowing she couldn’t wait any longer to deliver her baby and uttered a phrase she’ll never forget saying: “I can’t do this.”  

But at the time, Keyana didn’t realize her own strength. She could do this. And, minutes later, she would welcome her healthy baby girl into the world surrounded by family who stuck by to greet their new bundle of joy.  

Having been through this incredible journey, Keyana only found it fitting to give her daughter a name to commemorate her family’s experience: Avah Storm Murphy. After all, Keyana delivered Avah in a Family Dollar parking lot, after what was once a category 4 hurricane which made landfall about 30 miles away in Wrightsville Beach. The storm caused road closures, power outages, and evacuations across the coastal Carolinas.

Avah Storm Murphy was born in Carolinas MED-1 when Hurricane Florence took direct aim at the Carolinas.

Keyana’s delivery was a testament to one new mother’s resolve and the MED-1 staff’s miraculous poise under pressure. Now approaching the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Florence, the dramatic events that unfolded in that Family Dollar parking lot are still fresh in the minds of all involved.

Forging a lasting connection

Carolinas MED-1 is a one-of-a-kind mobile hospital that has traveled all over the country helping out after natural disasters and during large-scale planned events. In short, the MED-1 team has pretty much “seen it all.” But Dawn Middleton, RN and MED-1 teammate, is still struck by the circumstances of Avah’s birth — and will never forget Keyana’s strength and resolve on that fateful day.

“Keyana is the one to be celebrated in all of this,” says Middleton. “She was just so strong during all of it. To this day it makes me emotional. I remember telling her ‘You can, you can do this.’ And then she did — she did it so beautifully.”

It was Dawn’s job to take care of baby Avah right after she was born. She vividly remembers the breadth of responsibility being thrust upon her as the baby was handed to her. “It was just me and this baby amid this great storm,” remembers Middleton.

But she quickly forgot her nerves as she realized how sweet and gentle Avah was right away. “She was just so cute. I had to remind myself that I was there to take care of the baby, not play with her!” says Middleton, laughing.

But Dawn’s loving touch with Avah is just another example of the deep personal relationship the MED-1 team formed with Keyana and her family — a family Dawn claims has shown her a “whole new side of humanity.” And the deep bond between Keyana’s family and the MED-1 staff has continued throughout the first year of Avah’s life.

“As Avah grows, I make sure to send as many pictures as I can,” says Keyana. She sent Dawn and the other nurses and doctors a collage of pictures in their Christmas card and recently sent the MED-1 staff invitations to Avah’s first birthday party.

“The staff is just full of great caring people,” says Keyana. “They were so full of patience and so reassuring. They did everything they could do to make me feel welcome and cared for and went out of their way to keep my family happy.”

Looking back, moving forward 

After Florence, Dawn and the MED-1 team learned just how important it is to have a clear schedule during hurricane season. After all, hurricane season is unpredictable and a catastrophic storm can form at any time — so it’s important to be prepared both practically and mentally to get out of harms way and help the community at a moment’s notice.

“At the end of the day, being able to serve the community like this is such a privilege,” says Middleton. “Our whole experience with Keyana and her family was a team effort — and it’s the kind of teamwork and strength you can’t teach. You just have to be there.” 

But the MED-1 team isn’t the only ones who learned from this experience. A year later, after a birth that pushed her beyond her limits, Keyana learned a lesson she’ll never forget: “Never say what you can’t do — because you really have no idea how strong you are.”