By Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor
Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward – and ours, too. You can read all of the Grace Under Pressure series by going to the blog search box and typing in the word “grace.”
Eight-months pregnant, Keaton Mason felt that unmistakable feeling around 9:30 p.m. while sitting in her home in Oklahoma City. Summoning her fiance’ and grabbing her bug-out bag, the pair jumped into their white Honda and headed to the hospital. The timing seemed fine as they were only a short drive from the facility, but Baby Tatum had another plan in mind. Pulling off at the first exit they could find on I-40, they screeched to a stop just beside some semis at a large truck stop. The young couple was panicked and a small crowd of the helpless began to form. No one had medical training and no one around had any expertise past calling the 911.
No one that is except Gary Wilson. Wilson, who was homeless and hitchhiking from Montana to warmer environs in Florida, came over to see just what the commotion was about. Seeing the fear and frustration in the eyes of Keaton, Wilson jumped into the backseat and assessed the scene. What he found was a four-weeks early preemie that was blue from anoxia and unconscious. The umbilical cord was wrapped serpent-like around the baby’s throat and both Keaton and Wilson were fully aware of the danger. “My baby’s blue, my baby’s blue … she’s not breathing,” she screamed into the cell phone held near her mouth.
Wilson couldn’t bear the fettle and settled in near the new mother. Unwrapping the cord, he freed the baby’s neck from a sure death grip and then tied off the umbilicalis. He massaged the newborn’s back until normal respiration occurred, all the while assuring the desperate parents that things would “be alright.” Baby Tatum was returned to her mother’s arms as paramedics arrived. Gary Wilson faded into the crowd at the truck stop.
“He did everything right,” said paramedic Sandra Lesperance, who responded to the scene. Keaton was finally relieved and expressed gratitude to her savior, “He kept me pretty clam actually. He kept saying ‘everything’s ok. She’s breathing.’”
No one got a real good description of Wilson who was last seen walking along the highway with a hand-lettered sign reading “MEMPHIS.” Truck stop employee Waneva Morris recalls, “He had the long hair, the long beard.” Then this lady in the buckle of the Bible Belt added, “I would describe him as kind of looking like Jesus.”
Besides a few on-scene thanks and a free hot meal, no recognition or accolade went to Gary Wilson. In fact, no one’s sure what ever happened to the homeless man who just decided to get involved. What medical training he obtained in another lifetime was never explained. His cool, calm demeanor in the face of real crisis is as mysterious as the man.
What is sure is that humans are a curious lot. A man with all the attributes most find valuable from both an economic and character standpoint is hitchhiking the roadways in relative poverty and obscurity. If by necessity, it says a lot about how we judge and value our fellow man. If by choice, I like to think Gary Wilson’s lying on a beach somewhere and basking in both the Florida sun and the unspoken satisfaction of saving a life for the pure goodness of it.
Tatum’s almost 2-years-old and doing well. He parents tease her about being delivered by Jesus and who knows? Even to these skeptical eyes, the birth does seem … well … miraculous.
~Mark Esposito, Weekend Contributor
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