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...and lives begun

Morris Hospital delivers first post-flood baby

Billie Marie Zelko, born at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at Morris Hospital, was the first baby born at the facility after it was forced to shut down most of its operations because of flooding on April 18.
Billie Marie Zelko, born at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, April 24, 2013, at Morris Hospital, was the first baby born at the facility after it was forced to shut down most of its operations because of flooding on April 18.

The Zelko family is thrilled to be introducing their new daughter to the world, but Morris Hospital employees were even more excited to welcome her.

Billie Marie Zelko was Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers’ first delivery since the hospital had to evacuate patients and shut down most of its operations due to last week’s flooding.

Billie was born to Amanda and John Zelko of Morris at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, almost one week after the flooding in Morris began the morning of April 18.

“April 22 was my due date, so she was late, so it’s kind of good that she didn’t come on time,” said Amanda.

If Billie had come on time, the Zelkos would have had to go somewhere else because Morris Hospital’s birthing suites were still closed due to last week’s flooding.

Tuesday the hospital was given permission by the Illinois Department of Public Health to open its birthing suites again. On Monday, the hospital started offering outpatient laboratory testing and the majority of its diagnostic cardiac, imaging and pulmonary testing services again.

The hospital had been unable to provide these services since April 18, when flooding took over its parking lot and the basement where the pharmacy, laboratory, cafeteria, medical records and information technology are housed.

There is more than $1 million in damage to the hospital. Water did not reach any patient areas.

On April 18, 47 patients were evacuated due to the flooding. Of the 47 patients, 25 were transferred to other hospitals and 22 went home or to their nursing homes. The hospital remains on bypass for ambulance traffic and admitting patients. Walk-in emergencies can still come to the Morris emergency room.

When the flooding got so bad in Morris, Amanda got nervous because her due date was so close. She called her doctor, but got no answer because the office closed due to flooding.

“I was worried, but not stressed. I figured they would figure something out,” she said.

The family and her doctor ended up making plans to deliver at the hospital in Ottawa.

“I called (Morris Hospital) Friday and Saturday just to double check, and they said they probably wouldn’t (open their birthing suites) until Monday, if that,” said Amanda. “So I planned on just going to Ottawa. But then the doctor called Tuesday and told me we could come back here.”

“I would have been induced (Friday), but thank God she decided to come. (Amanda credits) the full moon and the Mexican food I ate the day before.”

The Ottawa hospital would have been fine, she said, but their families are from Morris, so they wanted to be at Morris Hospital if it was possible.

And the hospital staff was more than happy to have them.

“(The staff) has been beyond helpful. They are bending over backward for anything I need,” said Amanda. “I can tell they’re happy to be back.”

As their first baby after the flood, the hospital gifted Billie with a special rubber ducky-themed basket that included a giant rubber ducky Billie’s brother, 2-year-old Johnny, already took for bath time; a ducky outfit; and ducky socks complete with rain drops.

“We wanted to make something for the first baby that related to what we’ve been through,” said Janet Long, public relations manager.

An accompanying poem read: “Splishing and splashing rub a dub dub! Last week Morris needed a rubber ducky for its own bathtub.

"There was flooding in the grass and under the trees, even in the hospital, but not this week!

"You are the first baby born after the 2013 Morris Hospital flood and we welcome you with lots of love! “

When the lullaby was played over the hospital speakers announcing the birth, staff throughout the hospital cheered and clapped. Some even hugged each other in the halls.

Hannah Wehrle, development officer for the hospital, was working at her desk when she heard the lullaby.

“I got teary eyed. We’ve been all waiting for that moment of new life and rebirth,” she said. “It was exciting to hear and an emotional time.”

“It’s a new beginning for them and a new beginning for us as we progress forward. It’s so symbolic.”

The community was also excited about the hospital’s news. The hospital Facebook page had a post announcing the first baby, which Thursday evening had 807 likes and 44 comments. This is the greatest response to a single post since the hospital joined Facebook three years ago.

“Awe, you’re famous,” said Joan Leasure, Billie’s grandmother, to her granddaughter as she held her Thursday.

In other good news for the hospital, Thursday it had negative test results on surface and air samples taken in the hospital laboratory, indicating that area is clean. Within a couple of hours, drywallers were busy replacing sections of the wall that were removed as part of the cleanup.

The hospital is expected to be able to admit patients again early next week.

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