The Steamship Authority is commonly called the lifeline between Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland. It’s a refrain that would be easy to take for granted, but for occasions like the evening of December 20.
Then, the wind blew at gale force and a newborn baby and mother waited in the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital delivery room for a team of medical specialists from Children’s Hospital in Boston to arrive.
That Monday, a young mother ready to give birth walked into the hospital emergency room. Doctors quickly realized that, due to medical circumstances, the birth required the resources of a highly specialized hospital.
Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Children’s Hospital have a longstanding relationship. Under normal circumstances, the hospital would have transported the mother to Children’s Hospital by medical helicopter. But weather had grounded all flights. Tim Walsh, Martha’s Vineyard hospital chief executive, described the event this week, in the quiet aftermath.
Children’s’ Hospital dispatched a critical care transport team from Boston and told the Steamship Authority (SSA) to expect them. The estimated time of arrival at the SSA terminal at Woods Hole was 8:20 pm. The Island Home, the last ferry to the Island that night was to depart at 8:30 pm.
Hospital Ob/GYN Dan Pesh and Dr Henry Nieder awaited word that the ambulance was on it way before proceeding with the delivery.
“We decided that as soon as the ambulance got here we would leave, regardless of what time it was,” Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager said. “So we pulled out ten minutes early, ahead of the scheduled departure, to get the ambulance over to the Vineyard as soon as possible, so this team could deliver the baby.”
The Children’s team arrived at the hospital at 9:14 pm. The baby arrived at 9:16.
In the meantime, the ferry Martha’s Vineyard had left Woods Hole at 7:30 pm and arrived in Vineyard Haven at 8:15, where she was to tie up for the night. Instead, the ferry was ordered back to Woods Hole for an extra run, to pick up the few passengers who had missed the Island Home’s early departure.
The Island Home was the last ferry of the evening to leave the Vineyard. Her departure was to be at 9:30 pm. The Steamship Authority ordered her to delay until 10 pm, so the ambulance transporting the newborn could be carried back to the mainland.
Mr. Lamson said there was never any question about what to do.
“We figured that with this team they were transporting from Children’s Hospital, it must have been critical,” he said.
Mr. Lamson said that when management called the Martha’s Vineyard back for another trip, the crew was understandably wondering why an extra trip was necessary on a December night.
“They understood and everybody did a great job,” he said.
Boatline travelers left on the dock when the 8:30 left Woods Hole early were happy to see the Martha’s Vineyard return for them. No travelers complained about the delays.
“Once we explained it, they understood the circumstances and were actually very happy,” Mr. Lamson said. “And the boats were all in place the next morning, so we didn’t lose any time.”
Mr. Lamson credited terminal manager Mark Rozum for taking the initial call and setting the arrangements in place to fulfill the boatline’s life guarding mission.
Mr. Walsh said the Steamship Authority and weather are always factors.
“That’s what happens on occasion. You can’t even get a helicopter — it’s life on the Island. But the Steamship went above and beyond. But they always do. The boatline works with us really well,” Mr. Walsh said. “It’s times like this when the Island is at its best, when everybody is pulling in the same direction and trying to help.”
Editor’s Note: Privacy rules prevent the hospital from releasing the name of the mother or her newborn.