For Burns, delivering a baby was just like riding a bicycle

By LaKisha Ladson

Geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Mark Burns thought his days of delivering babies were over. It had been more than two decades since the UT Southwestern graduate’s labor and delivery rotation at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1985. But the winds and waters of Hurricane Ike brought those days back for Dr. Burns, if only briefly.

At a New Braunfels middle school that had been turned into a shelter, he delivered a healthy baby to an evacuee.

Baby Katrina Paw sleeps soundly between Dr. Mark Burns and Ku Paw, a Hurricane Ike evacuee whose baby Dr. Burns delivered at a shelter in New Braunfels.

“Suddenly, I found myself transported back to Parkland Hospital,” Dr. Burns said. “I even found myself thinking, '¡No empuje! [Don’t push!]' The rest just came back naturally, like riding a bike.”

Dr. Burns was there that September day with his two sons as a volunteer, just as he’d volunteered when Hurricane Katrina brought evacuees to New Braunfels a little more than two years ago. He met primary-care needs in addition to psychiatric ones.

“I often half-joked that a geriatric psychiatrist is part psychiatrist, part family physician and part village priest,” he said. “Despite the delivery, I don’t think I will add part ob/gyn to the description.”

Dr. Burns had finished rounds with an intensive care unit nurse and was walking toward the door when someone came running down the hallway after him.

Ku Paw, a refugee from Myanmar who had been living in Port Lavaca, had been at the shelter for a few days and was pregnant with her fifth child. Ms. Paw had been in an emergency room earlier that day but had been released.

“They thought she wasn’t in labor,” Dr. Burns said. “She was so stoic; she made not a sound during her contractions.”

But Dr. Burns had seen women in labor before who made no sounds.

“I immediately thought of a woman I had aided during her delivery at Parkland,” he said.

Every two minutes, Ms. Paw’s face would contort and her body would tense and tighten, Dr. Burns said. He took gloves from the nurse and found that Ms. Paw was completely dilated and the baby’s head was in the birth canal.

The nurse got the needed supplies, and Dr. Burns delivered the baby, cut the umbilical cord and gave the newborn to her mom. Emergency medical service personnel arrived soon after that. Mom and daughter are doing well, Dr. Burns said.

“The credit goes to the mother,” he said. “She was very brave and serene despite being in labor in an evacuee shelter. She did a beautiful job.

“I can’t overestimate how reassuring it was for me to have been in that situation so many times before. The OB residents rotating at Parkland allowed us, under supervision, to be responsible for the delivery of infants at Parkland. We did it, and we felt comfortable doing it.”

Dr. Burns said he delivered about 25 babies during his medical school rotation. A native of Valley Mills, Texas, he graduated from UT Southwestern in 1987 and completed his psychiatry residency at Duke University Medical Center, where he was chief resident and resident teacher of the year.

He is now a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, where he sees patients and supervises geriatric medicine and geriatric psychiatry fellows. He is also a frequent lecturer on a variety of mental-health topics.

After the baby was delivered, a local newspaper reporter was called, and since then the story has appeared in media throughout the world, including coverage by CNN and Fox News. It’s scheduled to appear in an upcoming issue of Reader’s Digest.

Dr. Burns doesn’t think he’ll deliver a child again, but he is prepared if he has to. “The wonderful thing about medicine as taught at UT Southwestern is that you have great confidence in your clinical skills no matter what your specialty. It just provides a tremendous foundation,” he said.

And the baby? “She’s no worse for the wear, despite being aided in delivery by a geriatric psychiatrist,” Dr. Burns joked.

Ms. Paw named her daughter Katrina. 

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