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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

What's your ride? A 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 12:01 am

For some people, keeping an older car is about taking it to shows or having that one vehicle they always dreamed about as a kid. But for Jim Berlien and his wife, Gay, their 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix is about the birth of their second daughter, Abby. She was born in the front seat on Labor Day, Sept. 3, 1979.

"We went from backache to baby in 45 minutes," Gay Berlien said.

The couple was living in eastern Pennsylvania in the Pocono Mountains at the time, near the top of a mountain. It was a 15-minute ride to get to the hospital at the bottom. It was two weeks before the baby was expected, and Gay Berlien was unloading the dishwasher. Jim had decided to take their first daughter, a year-and-a-half-old toddler, to McDonald's but about five minutes away from the house he just had a feeling that something might not be right. He returned to discover his wife's water had broken, and she thought it was time to go to the hospital.

On the way down the mountain, five minutes from the house, the baby's leg presented itself, and Gay knew something was not right with the position of the baby. Her husband was driving as fast as he could to get her to the hospital.

"It was Labor Day morning," Jim Berlien said, "so fortunately there wasn't much traffic. So I am going 60-65 mph running red lights through these little towns. We crossed an elevated railroad track. I remember the wheels coming off the ground."

When he glanced over at his wife to make sure she was alright he noticed the leg hanging out of his wife's shorts. Jim offered to pull over and deliver the baby, but Gay told him she didn't think he could; it was much too complicated.

When they arrived, Jim remembered his Lamaze training and tried to walk calmly into the emergency room to tell staff that his wife was in active labor in the front seat of the car, and the baby had one leg out. His calm announcement cleared the room as the ER staff sprinted to the parking lot.

"It's funny now, but at the time it was very scary," Jim Berlien said.

Gay Berlien said it was the beginning of the era when family practice doctors would go into the emergency room to get more training. Dr. Philips, an old country doctor from rural Pennsylvania, came out and was able to turn the baby so the other leg could come out. Abby was born breach in the front seat of the car.

The Berliens' Pennsylvania Hospital-trained obstetrician would have done a C-section, Gay said.

"He was in worse shape than I was when he got to the hospital, because he realized what could have happened, and really we were very lucky that she was OK," Gay said

The umbilical cord had been wrapped around their daughter's neck. She was very quiet on the gurney while lying on her mother's stomach as staff rushed them from the parking lot. However, when they got onto the elevator and the doors closed baby Abby began to wail.

So the years passed and when it came time to buy a new car Jim held onto their Grand Prix, the first car of their marriage. It somehow didn't feel right to trade in the car that their second child had been born in. So he stores it in the winter and gets the car out during the summer.

The car still runs and has all the original parts. The interior is still the same blue it was the day Abby was born. The V8 engine has 86,800 miles on it but still purrs down the road. Jim Berlien said he had thought Abby, who once based a speech around the car and her birth in her freshman college communications class, might want the car, but she does not. So for now the Berliens still have it, along with their memories of their daughter's birth. Abby, now Abby Main, lives in Glen Ellyn, Ill., with her husband, Justin, and 1-year-old daughter Emma, and they are expecting a second child in February.