Johnson County deputy helps deliver baby on Highway 1

'It was a weird morning'

Johnson County deputy Shawn Swartzendruber. (photo via Johnson County Sheriff's Office)
Johnson County deputy Shawn Swartzendruber. (photo via Johnson County Sheriff's Office)

IOWA CITY — Get the call at 1:55 a.m. Arrive on the scene at 1:58 a.m. Deliver a baby at 2 a.m.

All in a day’s work for Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Shawn Swartzendruber.

“It was a weird morning,” he said.

Swartzendruber, a six-year veteran of the sheriff’s office and father of four, is no stranger to childbirth. But what he took part in on the morning of Sept. 22 was unlike anything else.

Just before 2 a.m. that morning, Swartzendruber was on routine patrol on Highway 1 between Iowa City and Kalona. At 1:55 a.m. he was dispatched to a medical call on the highway. All the dispatchers were able to tell him was it involved a woman in labor. Swartzendruber medical calls can often go in a lot of different directions.

“You never know,” he said. “I did not respond thinking there would be a baby delivered on the side of the road.”

Three minutes after the call came out, Swartzendruber pulled up to a car pulled over on the side of Highway 1 near Maier Avenue. A man was pacing on the side of the road and talking on the phone. A girl was outside of the vehicle and a woman was in the passenger seat, clutching the car and screaming through a contraction, Swartzendruber said.

Swartzendruber said he quickly addressed the first person he encountered, the girl at the rear of the car.

“She wasn’t panicking, but she kept repeating, ‘I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do,’” he said. “I told her an ambulance is en route, have a seat in the car.”

Swartzendruber then turned his attention to the mother. She told him she could feel the baby’s head with her fingers. Swartzendruber told the woman an ambulance was just a few minutes out.

“In a minute, she was screaming, “The baby is coming. The baby is coming,’” he said. “Sure enough, the baby delivered.”

Swartzendruber said he instructed the woman to hold the newborn close to her body to protect keep her warm. With the ambulance still not on the scene, Swartzendruber said he and the mother noticed the baby’s color “seemed off.”

“We noticed at the same time the umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck,” he said.

The mother tried to pull the cord from the back of the neck up and over the baby’s head, but it wasn’t working, Swartzendruber said. He asked the woman to let go of the cord, lower the newborn into her lap and unwind the cord that way.

“Once we did that, she let out a little cry,” Swartzendruber said. “She started regaining the pink color. She actually had her eyes open.”

Minutes later, the Johnson County Ambulance Service arrived on the scene. Swartzendruber and a paramedic took the newborn to the ambulance to warm her up and clean her off. A sergeant from the sheriff’s office and another paramedic tended to the mother. Soon, the mother and her child were both on their way to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Swartzendruber said he called the hospital later that morning to leave his information with the family. He never got the mother’s name and hasn’t heard back from the family.

“The nurses said the baby was healthy and fine,” he said.

By 2:20 a.m., Swartzendruber was back in service, ready to respond to the next call for service. Today, he says it’s a call he won’t soon forget.


“I’m going to remember it because it was something good, that I feel good about,” he said. “I knew I was able to help somebody ... A lot of medical calls, they go by ambulance. You never know the outcomes. The baby was healthy. That’s what I’m going to remember. It was a positive experience.”


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