Mickalina Pfund walked a few yards down a breezeway as she exited Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center around 3 a.m. Tuesday in Charlotte.
She'd just finished a 12-hour shift as receptionist in the ER. It was dark outside the adjacent parking deck as she made her way through the early-morning quiet.
A scream behind Pfund pierced the calm. She dropped her purse and notebook, and ran toward the commotion. Kimberly and Zach Cleary's Acura SUV had hurriedly pulled into the parking deck.
Kimberly was having a baby. Right then.
Pfund saw Zach bolt into the hospital as she neared the vehicle. In the passenger seat sat Kimberly. The strangers didn't have time for introductions.
Kimberly: "The baby's coming!"
Pfund: "I'm going to help you."
A couple of minutes later, Hadelyn, the Cleary's third child, entered the world in the parking garage, just a few yards from the sliding-door entrance.
Pfund and Kimberly Cleary had to delicately balance the newborn and umbilical cord as they slowly slid from the SUV seat to the ground.
For a long minute or two, they were alone.
"Help hadn't arrived yet, so I started yelling," Pfund said.
Raymond Layne, a Novant Health public safety officer, was next to arrive. “Give me your shirt to wrap the baby,” Pfund said. Layne quickly shed his uniform shirt.
Pfund cradled Hadelyn (rhymes with Madeline) and Kimberly. Again and again, Pfund assured Kimberly "Your baby's fine. Your baby's fine."
"She was very calm," Kimberly said. "She said `Lay on me.' She was very sweet. She told me she wasn't going to leave."
Then, Dr. Heather White and nurse Nicole Lucas arrived car-side. White cut the umbilical cord. A minute or so later, nurse Iman Abukar arrived, pushing the baby warmer, to limit baby Hadelyn's body heat loss. Kimberly was transferred to a wheelchair and hustled into the hospital.
Abukar, in her third year delivering babies, said it was the first she's seen or heard of it happening in the parking garage. There was a birth in a hospital elevator a few months ago, she said.
"We were so glad nothing bad happened," Abukar said. "In that situation, a lot of things can go wrong."
Only 1.4 percent of U.S. births—about seven in 10,000-- happen outside of a hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that 1.4 percent, 66 percent occur at home and 29 percent at freestanding birth centers. The remaining 5 percent occur in clinics, a doctor's office, or in the Cleary's case, near the corner of East Fifth Street and Hawthorne Lane.
But Pfund brought excellent qualifications to the rare event.
She too is a mother. It also helped that she’d had some nurse training, though she ended up working as a receptionist because it gave her a better schedule for her three young children. Pfund's also seen her share of intense situations in the emergency department.
"I just kept hugging Mom (Kimberly)," she said. "Her concern was the baby."
The Clearys live in Waxhaw, North Carolina, about a 45-minute drive in normal traffic. Kimberly, 34, awoke having contractions, and husband Zach made good time heading north on Providence Road.
"It was 25 minutes," Kimberly said, laughing. "But not fast enough."
After the Clearys were whisked into the hospital, Pfund used wipes to clean up the SUV car seat. She folded Kimberly's clothes. Another security guard moved the SUV to a parking space. Then they went upstairs to ask the nursing staff how the family was doing.
"They were extremely kind and very comforting," Kimberly said. "Given the circumstances, I think it turned out about as great as it could have. I'm very thankful (Pfund) was parked there."
Pfund phoned home to say she'd be a little late arriving because of the cleanup. But she had a cool story to share with her family.
"I felt like I did what anyone else would do in that situation," she said. "I was ecstatic driving home. I found it to be an amazing event."
On Wednesday, Pfund returned to the maternity ward to visit the Clearys. She and Kimberly shared a warm hug in the hospital room. Daddy Zach cradled baby Hadelyn (a healthy 8 pounds, 6 ounces) nearby. Pfund instinctively moved toward the baby.
"You want to hold her?" Zach asked. "You've done it before. You did it first."
The two mothers chatted about new-baby topics and the group recounted the intense events of 32 hours earlier. As she exited, Pfund congratulated the family and said she was glad to help.
"Thank you," Kimberly Cleary said. "Without you, I don't know what might have happened."