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Unexpected Delivery By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday October 07, 2005

When Biko Eisen-Martin spotted a woman giving birth to the first of triplets in the middle of downtown Berkeley, he didn’t hesitate to give her the shirt off his back. 

Eisen-Martin, a 23-year-old poet and first-year history teacher at Berkeley High School, said he left campus for a walk and some fresh air around 1:45 p.m. Monday and saw Lanitta Lewis of Oakland standing five steps down the stairwell to the BART station at Center Street and Shattuck Avenue, hunched over the banister, alone and bleeding. 

“I asked if she was OK and she told me to get her some napkins,” he said. “I came down to give them to her and I see the head coming out.” 

Eisen-Martin used his cell phone to call for an ambulance. Seconds later, with the baby almost completely out, he ripped off his shirt and handed it to Lewis, who wrapped the newborn in it. 

“You’re my hero,” Lewis told Eisen-Martin when he visited her and her three newborn girls Wednesday at Alta Bates’ Newborn Intensive Care Center. “No one else took notice of me. I would have been all alone at BART with a baby in my hands.” 

Paramedics rushed the first baby to Children’s Hospital, and later transferred her to Alta Bates to be with her mother and sisters. Doctors at Alta Bates delivered the other two babies by cesarean section since the babies, born 12 weeks premature, were positioned to leave the womb feet first. 

“They’re doing so well for 28 weeks,” said Peggy Lindslev, manager of the Newborn Intensive Care Center. 

The triplets, which are on feeding tubes, will remain in the hospital for eight to nine weeks before going home, Lindslev said. The first baby born weighed three pounds, the second was three pounds and five ounces, and the third was two pounds and 10 ounces. 

Lewis said the triplets were due on Dec. 23, and she had no inkling that she would give birth Monday when she boarded an AC Transit bus to meet with her social worker at the Multi-Agency Service Center on Center Street. 

“As I got off the bus, I realized I had to use the bathroom,” she said. “I thought BART would let a pregnant woman use the bathroom, but I couldn’t make it all the way down so I was right there on the steps.” 

That’s when Eisen-Martin spotted her. 

“My first thought was that this was like a scene out of Hurricane Katrina,” he said. “No one was helping her, no one seemed to care.” 

At Lewis’ request, he got her napkins from nearby Cafe Firenze. When he returned and saw the baby’s head pop out, he raced back to the cafe and begged for a clean towel to wrap the baby. With none available, he pulled off his T-shirt and slipped it into Lewis’ hands as she grabbed hold of her newborn. 

“I told him I had two more to go and he couldn’t believe it,” Lewis said on Wednesday. “He was in shock.” 

Eisen-Martin said he told Lewis that she and the baby were beautiful right after she delivered. 

“Just to see life like that so vividly,” he said. “I’ll never forget that.” 

Ana Rosa Torres, an Oakland waitress, who was drinking coffee at Cafe Firenze, followed Eisen-Martin to help Lewis. She further wrapped the baby girl in her blouse, and with one hand cradling the baby and the other hand behind Lewis, she helped the new mother up the BART stairs as paramedics arrived. 

“I was trying to make sure they were both breathing,” Torres said Tuesday. “The mom looked like she was about to pass out.” 

Lewis carried Torres’ blouse on her wheelchair when Eisen-Martin visited Wednesday. 

Besides the triplets, Lewis said she has three other children, though none are in her custody. She said her social worker was arranging for her and the triplets to move into a new apartment in Oakland. 

Although many patrons of the Multi-Agency Service Center are homeless, Director Robert Long said Lewis would have shelter and services for the triplets. 

Lewis said she hadn’t yet decided on names for the triplets, but said she had an idea for the first born which would honor the man who helped bring the girl into the world. 

Explaining that everyone in her family has a name starting with “L,” Lewis said, “Labiko, that wouldn’t be bad?” 


Any donations should be sent to Lewis’s social worker, Edwina Bradley at Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency, 1931 Center St., Berkeley, CA 94704