Air National Guard flight nurse saves lives of Ida evacuees

Photo courtesy of Karry Degruise Photography

Maj. James Kevin Polk (standing), poses with Ashley, Dustin and baby Julia Lane Smith at the home of Karry Degruise in Bolton, Mississippi, Sept. 6, 2021. Polk, an Air National Guard flight nurse with the 183rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Mississippi National Guard, delivered the baby and provided lifesaving assistance to Ashley and Julia, saving both of their lives, Sept. 5.  

In the early hours of Sept. 5, Dustin and Ashley Smith, evacuees from Lafitte, La., welcomed a new baby girl in the bathtub of a friend’s house in Bolton, Miss.

Then, everything took a turn.

On Aug. 27, as the city of Lafitte, was preparing for the wrath of Hurricane Ida,  Ashley was expecting her fourth child and deliberating over the best course of action to safely evacuate her family.Then a good friend, Brandi Arcement of Benateri, La., invited the Smiths to stay with her parents, Craig and Karry Degruise, of Bolton.

On Aug. 29, Ida made landfall at Port Fourchon, La., as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm devastated the Smith's hometown and caused severe damage to their home, leaving them in Mississippi.

Maj. James Kevin Polk is a flight nurse assigned to the 183rd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron of the 172nd Airlift Wing, Mississippi National Guard..

In his civilian capacity, Polk is a surgical recovery room nurse at Baptist Hospital in Jackson and a neighbor of the Degruise family in Bolton.

When the infant was born on Sept.  5, she was not breathing, and her color was blue. Polk, who was assisting with the birth, began giving her rescue breaths and was able to stabilize the newborn.

“The baby took a little while to start breathing, probably because it was such a fast birth,” he said. “I started rescue breathing when she didn’t start breathing on her own. A clear airway is the most important thing after the baby is born. I covered the baby’s mouth and nose with my mouth and gave her three rescue breaths. Then she started breathing on her own.”

Polk said everything was going like it was supposed to after the baby started breathing. He got everyone cleaned up and was letting the new mom relax in the tub before trying to get her out. When she tried to get out of the tub, she got weak, Polk said.

“Ashley’s pulse was faint and thready. She started turning blue and she passed out,” said Polk. “She was slipping down into the tub. Dustin grabbed her and was holding her while I gave her five rescue breaths. I remember saying before I gave her the rescue breaths, ‘I am not trying to kiss you. Come on, you can do this.’ At first she was not responding. I was getting ready to start CPR when Ashley came to saying, ‘I was only taking a nap.’”

Polk stayed with the family for a while to monitor Ashley and her newborn and continued to check on the Smith family the in following days to make sure everyone was doing well.

The Smiths and the Degruises are extremely grateful for the exceptional outcome.

“There is no monetary value, enough gratitude, or gifts that I can ever give Kevin, Karry, and Craig to express how thankful my husband and I are for that whole experience,” Ashley said. “I feel like Angels were put in my path to help in a situation that was crazy all around us.”

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