North Huntingdon family, EMT reunite 35 years after ambulance birth
A mutual friend, a golf outing and a chance encounter were all it took for Halle Siniawski Copeman to reunite with the man who delivered her in an ambulance 35 years ago.
“It's just such a neat thing that we found each other and finally got to meet after all these years,” Copeman said.
Copeman's birth on Oct. 11, 1982, was a cause célèbre at the time because she was born on a North Huntingdon Rescue 8 ambulance en route to Westmoreland Hospital — delivered by a young crew with no experience with live births.
Neither Copeman nor her mother, Sherry Siniawski, 67, would see that EMT again, until a July charity golf outing brought them back together.
“God works in strange, mysterious ways,” Siniawski said.
After years of wanting to meet the man who delivered her, Copeman this year learned his name from a mutual friend, John McCafferty — who had previously heard the story of the ambulance delivery from his friend and co-worker Jim Acton, 56, a former EMT with North Huntingdon Rescue 8.
“John and I had talked numerous times. I said, ‘I know them,' ” Acton said.
On July 29, Copeman was working the North Huntingdon Police Golf Outing at Westmoreland Country Club when she came across Acton's name. He and McCafferty had registered for the event.
“I saw his name on the registration, and I said, ‘Are you John McCafferty's friend?' That's how we came in contact,” Copeman said.
That reunion led to another this week, when Siniawski saw Acton for the first time since that day in 1982. The three gathered Wednesday at the Siniawski homestead on Pennsylvania Avenue to reminisce.
“I've always wanted to meet him and thank him,” she said.
Siniawski gave Acton a gift, and they hugged.
“Every EMT in the world wants to deliver a baby. It's just a great thing,” Acton said. “It was one of the greatest days of my life.”
Even though he was only 21 at the time, Acton already had a couple years' experience as an EMT. The one thing he had not done was deliver a baby, although he had responded to calls involving the transport of a pregnant woman to the hospital.
He thought Oct. 11 was going to be another one of those calls. Siniawski's due date was Oct. 31, but she had enough experience — with the births of her two oldest children, Shannon and Richard — to know that Oct. 11 was the day.
“I knew things were progressing a little quicker than I had anticipated,” she said.
Siniawski's parents were visiting at the time but were unconvinced of the emergency, even as her labor pains increased. Her husband, Richard, a postal worker, was away, enjoying a Columbus Day off with his 3-year-old son.
When the three-person ambulance crew arrived, Siniawski got even more worried.
“I noticed they were really young, and I said, ‘Have you ever delivered a baby before?' And they assured me that they had — many times,” she said.
“I had never actually done that. It was a little scary,” Acton said.
“I probably would have panicked if I had known that,” Siniawski said.
Acton, who was accompanied by fellow EMT Leslie Nielson and driver Pat Greening, said he found Siniawski sitting calmly at the dining room table. She was able to walk to the ambulance, and they left for the hospital.
The seven-mile drive on Route 30 seemed to last forever. The birth process began soon after they departed and was completed by the time the ambulance was on the exit ramp for Westmoreland Hospital, Acton said.
“All of a sudden, Sherry said, ‘It's coming!' and I got very scared,” he said. “I had one of my knees on the cot, and I was shaking.”
The EMTs made sure the mother was comfortable and put the baby, still attached to the umbilical cord, on Siniawski's chest. It was only in the maternity ward that she learned of Acton's inexperience.
But that was of no importance at Wednesday's reunion.
“You did an excellent job,” she told him with a smile.
Acton volunteered with Rescue 8 for another eight years but never had another birth. Siniawski had a fourth child, Seth, who is now 32.