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Making a connection

Gary Cooke and Brandy Kolmer
Special to The Union
U.S. Army Capt. Justin Stewart was able to witness the birth of his daughter, Sierra, from Afghanistan thanks to SNMH’s Wi-Fi access. The family is shown here with Stewart’s wife, Lauren, and their 2-year-old daughter Kaylee.
Submitted photo |

On Sept. 4, former Grass Valley resident Lauren Stewart gave birth to her daughter at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) with a special guest present in the room.

It was her husband, U.S. Army Capt. Justin Stewart. But his boots were not on the ground in the birthing room; he witnessed the birth of their second daughter, Sierra, from his barracks in Afghanistan, where he is an Apache helicopter pilot.

Thanks to Wi-Fi technology available throughout the hospital, the Stewarts used an iPad and the FaceTime app to celebrate this meaningful occasion together.



And there were others who joined as well. Lauren’s brother was on an iPad in Florida, and her friend, Grass Valley resident Nicola Murphy, was on-hand in the delivery room to hold one of the iPads.

“We hear stories all the time about how Wi-Fi technology has helped patients and family members connect with loved ones who are unable to be with them for one reason or another,” shared Kimberly Parker, executive director of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation.




Parker is particularly proud of this since the Wi-Fi access was made possible through community donations to the Hospital Foundation several years ago.

“Our ability to connect people during what can be a difficult and scary time is something that our community can be very proud of,” she continued.

Capt. Stewart, for one, is grateful.

“It was a blessing to be able to be there. It was pretty amazing,” he said.

Part of what made the interaction remarkable was how synchronized the timing had to be. Stewart knew his wife’s delivery date, and had arranged with fellow pilots to fill in for him if he wasn’t already in the air when she went into labor.

“When I called him, he was literally strapping into the helicopter,” Lauren said. “He was able to get a stand-in pilot, run back to his room, and get online.”

Her husband continued, “I was very lucky. We generally fly five missions a week and a mission day lasts 12 hours; once we strap in we could be flying six to eight hours. I was actually on an aircraft pre-flighting and was due to take off in 10 minutes when I got the call.”

Lauren said she was only in labor two hours, and little Sierra, with her blue eyes and dark hair, was born an hour after her mom arrived at the hospital.

Thanks to the Wi-Fi connection, Capt. Stewart not only witnessed the birth of his daughter, but was also able to view a sweet moment the next day when their eldest daughter, Kaylee, age 2, met her little sister for the first time.

Capt. Stewart shared that he and his military colleagues used to “meet” new babies and connect with other important family events through still pictures and telephone calls.

Since joining the Army in 2003, he has served 15- and 12-month tours of duty in Iraq, and six months in Afghanistan.

“The Army is so established in Afghanistan now that I’m able to have an Internet connection in my room. Power is not always consistent. We actually lost power just 30 minutes after Sierra’s birth,” he said.

He had high praise for the hospital.

“From my perspective, the ability to have Wi-Fi was a huge benefit to me,” he shared. “To be there at one of the biggest events in life — I really appreciated it.”

Lauren also appreciated the connection.

“I literally felt like my whole family was with me,” Lauren said.

As an RN who has worked seven years in the emergency departments at hospitals in California and Hawaii, she has an appreciation for good hospital facilities — and nurses.

She had special praise for the support she got from the nurse that helped her during Sierra’s birth, long-time employee Carolyn Vance, RN.

“My treatment was phenomenal,” she said. “It took less than an hour and it was crazy, but it all went very well.”

Lauren lived in Grass Valley during her high school years, and had returned to be with her family for this birth. Her husband wasn’t due to return to the U.S. until December, but has since been able to come home. Now the two are in Washington while he is assigned to duty at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma.

The Stewart family is now in Washington where Capt. Stewart is assigned to duty at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma. They are enjoying life together with their new addition while awaiting his next deployment.

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.


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