Giving birth to healthy twins is hard enough, doing it in the middle of a Category 5 Cyclone requires a special kind of determination and bravery.
Avalon Buksh was two weeks shy of her due date when Cyclone Winston hit Fiji. As the family prepared for the strongest storm ever to make landfall in the Southern Hemisphere, the mother of six asked her husband Feroz “What if I go into labour during the cyclone?”
Sure enough, as the cyclone’s vicious winds wreaked havoc across Fiji, Avalon went into labour two weeks early, just as the cyclone reached Nadi in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Avalon was expecting twin girls and admits it was touch and go during the night as they waited for the worst of the cyclone’s winds to recede.
“At 3.30am the contractions were getting stronger, we called emergency services and were told they couldn’t do anything because their only ambulance was on its way to Lautoka District Hospital already, we were literally stuck”.
Feroz had dropped their only transportation, a van, off at a friend’s place for safe keeping in anticipation of flooding in their low-lying neighbourhood. Friends attempted to get the van to their home but fallen debris blocked their way.
In desperation, Feroz called the Cyclone Emergency Hotline, which prompted a fast response to the now heavily labouring mother. By 5.30am the police had arrived to take Avalon and Feroz to their van and they quickly went to the nearest hospital, albeit one ill-equipped for complicated deliveries.
“I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Lautoka, so we went to Nadi Hospital” Avalon says, while gazing at the sleeping twins next to her.
“As soon as I got to hospital, the midwife checked me and said ‘you’re ready’. Within 20 minutes the first baby was born, Tina”.
That’s when things got even more complicated; the midwife discovered that the second baby was in breach position.
“During my clinic check-ups everything was fine and both babies were fine and in position but when the first baby came out the second baby flipped and was breached” Avalon says.
She needed to be rushed to Lautoka Hospital 45 minutes away by road for an emergency C-section. To make matters worse, there were two other emergency patients that needed to be transferred, but only one ambulance.
That’s when Sister Alisi Kurimavua stepped in. Sister Alisi, a senior nurse with 20 years experience caring for children and families, pushed Avalon to the front of the queue, ensuring that she would receive the urgent medical attention needed to safely deliver the second baby.
Feroz followed the ambulance to Lautoka City, navigating downed power lines and debris all the way.
When they reach the hospital the on-duty doctor quickly assessed and prepped Avalon for theatre. This part, at least, went smoother than expected.
“Thank God for that doctor because he was able to manipulate the baby into position and I gave birth naturally to Gina,” she says.
Avalon is back at her home where her husband and four older children are doting on the twins.
“I was lucky to be discharged after a night, but there are mothers who were stuck there at Lautoka Hospital and had to take shelter in the halls, but the people at Lautoka Hospital were so good”.
It’s hard enough to be a pregnant or new mother caring for a newborn at the best of times — in emergencies this gets even harder. UNICEF is working around the clock to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable groups affected by Cyclone Winston. In addition to lifesaving measures such as the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation supplies, we have expertise in maternal, newborn and child health as well as ‘psychological first aid’, to help children and families get through difficult times.
UNICEF Pacific is working in partnership with the Government of Fiji to respond to the urgent needs of affected children and communities. Within 36 hours of the cyclone hitting Fiji, UNICEF was distributing pre-positioned emergency supplies to those most in need.
By Neisau Tuidraki