Florida Keys

The makeshift hospital looked like a military camp. But she had to have her baby now

Jessica Hammond didn’t know what to make of the Marathon hospital she and her husband pulled up to in distress on April 1.

She just knew, at 33 weeks pregnant and in pain, she needed help.

But Fishermen’s Community Hospital has a closed emergency room, and fencing and gates surround the property at 3301 Overseas Highway.

“Then we saw nurses jumping up and down and waving, ‘Over here!’” said Hammond, 27, of Tampa, who had her first baby at the makeshift Keys hospital — a collection of converted shipping containers and a tent — that has yet to fully recover from Hurricane Irma.

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Jessica and Austin Hammond, of Tampa, with their newly born daughter, Coral. Provided by Jessica Hammond



The baby, who was not due until May 18, arrived during the couple’s vacation in Marathon. When they arrived at Fishermen’s, the staff told them the due date was immediately.

“The doctor said, you are having this baby right now,” Hammond recalled.

It was a first for Fishermen’s as well: the first baby delivered at what administrators call the “field hospital,” which went up after the Sept. 10 storm that ransacked Marathon and parts of the Lower Keys. The makeshift hospital has seen about 4,000 patients so far.

“Everything went as smoothly as possible,” said Elaine Matias, an assistant nurse manager of the neonatal intensive care unit at South Miami Hospital, to where the bay was transferred. “They had enough support.”

Coral Lynn Hammond entered the world at 3:42 a.m. Easter Sunday, April 1, at 3 pounds, 12 ounces and 17 inches long. She is expected to leave South Miami Hospital in about two weeks.

“The baby has some growing to do,” Matias said.

The Keys experience helped the Hammonds narrow down the baby’s name.

“She named herself,” Hammond said Thursday.

Austin Hammond, 28, said he and his wife are just grateful the hospital was open, since the closest one, Mariners Hospital, is an hour away in Tavernier.

“I probably would have delivered this baby in my truck,” he said. “It’s just a blessing the hospital is still here.”

Baptist Health South Florida owns both Fishermen’s and Mariners, and plans to rebuild a $40 million campus at the Marathon hospital’s location. But that could take up to three years, said Rick Freeburg, CEO of both hospitals.

During Irma, Fishermen’s roof was severely damaged and subsequent flooding ruined the building.

Baptist Health has purchased a modular building that will replace the shipping containers, which resemble a mobile army surgical hospital, on July 12.

“It will be more of a facility than the current setup,” Freeburg said. “It’s set for delivery in June.

Baptist Health has asked the Marathon community to raise $15 million for the rebuild of Fishermen’s.

“We’re making some progress,” Freeburg said. “The community needs a hospital just as it needs schools and police and fire protection. We are still committed to building a hospital down here. It won’t remain an active community without a hospital.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

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