Ann-Kathryne Lassègue wasn’t worried when she started feeling contractions the evening of July 3. The young mother had experienced false labour before, and her second child wasn’t due for another couple of weeks.
But when the contractions started coming hard and fast, she called her husband to take her to the hospital, just to be safe.
They didn’t get much farther than their front door.
“I started screaming because of the pain,” said Lassègue, who came to Canada from Haiti five years ago and works as a diplomat at the Embassy of Haiti.
“I hugged my husband so he could help me sit down. And the baby just dropped.”
‘I thought he was dead’
The newborn infant fell onto a section of pavement in front of their home on rue de l’Épée, a quiet, suburban street in Gatineau, Que., where busy commuters rarely go beyond waving to one another.
Startled and dazed, Lassègue looked down and feared the worst.
“When I saw his body on the ground, he was just yellow, and in my head I thought he was dead,” she recalled. “I told my husband, ‘Oh my God, he’s dead,’ and I just passed out.”
The baby’s father, George Philippe Jean, was struggling to cope with the escalating situation while also trying to deal with the couple’s frightened two-year-old daughter.
“My wife was holding on to me and trying to sit down. I hear a [noise], I say, ‘Oh my God,’ and look down and see something on the [ground]. So I grab it and I saw it was the baby,” Jean recalled of those chaotic moments.
With the premature baby in his arms, an unconscious wife next to him and a screaming, scared toddler clinging to him, Jean said he cried out for help.
Neighbours to the rescue
Down the street, Solange Habyalimana was in her kitchen when her children burst into the house.
“They told me there’s something wrong with the woman outside, she’s screaming,” she recalled.
Habyalimana hurried outside, assessed the situation, and began comforting the couple’s crying two-year-old girl.
Michel Hivon, another neighbour from across the street, called 911 and joined other neighbours to help in any way they could. They moved a vehicle to make room for the ambulance, and helped keep Lassegue and the baby comfortable.
“I’m just glad I did,” Hivon said.
Following instructions from the 911 operator, the residents worked together “like a medical team,” according to Jean, to tie off the umbilical cord and make sure the baby and mother were warm and safe.
Habyalimana, who is from Rwanda, tears up when she remembers how the event turned strangers into caring neighbours.
“I have been here a couple of months. I didn’t know them, [or other neighbours],” she said. “But when we were helping, we didn’t think about it. We just think to work together to help the mother and the baby. Teamwork.”
Five minutes after the 911 call, Gatineau paramedics and firefighters arrived to safely transport the mother and child to hospital. All were pronounced healthy.
‘A big family’
A week later, the proud parents beam while holding George-Alix Jean, a healthy baby boy who made a dramatic entrance into the world and brought a neighbourhood together at the same time.
“The only thing we have in common is that we live on the same street,” said a grateful Jean.
“But at that specific point it was like it was a big family, it was the human community.”
The parents say the experience has reaffirmed their belief that people are fundamentally good.
“It’s the human basic instinct that came out,” Jean said.
“There was no immigration, no where do you come from, no black or white, just a human being trying to help another human being.”