At a place where life begins and ends, Brian Wilson guards the gate.
The Prentice Women’s Hospital doorman sees it all. He greets regular oncology patients by name as they come in for treatments, and shares in the joy of families leaving with newborns.
When nervous mothers-to-be show up at the hospital for scheduled deliveries, he comforts them with a calming rendition of “Happy Birthday,” a tradition that gained attention on social media recently when one woman posted about it on Facebook.
Five years ago, Carissa Kapcar was especially anxious as she arrived at Prentice to deliver her daughter Vivian. Five years earlier, Kapcar’s second child was stillborn.
“(His song) became this symbolic thing for me that, ‘Today is her birthday. She is coming out. She will be alive. We’re almost here,'” she said. “It was just an optimistic sign.”
On a recent weekday, Kapcar was downtown with Vivian to celebrate her birthday. They were walking past Prentice, and Kapcar was telling her daughter that the doorman had sung to her on the day she was born.
She gestured to the driveway in front of the hospital, and there was Wilson at the door.
“I saw him and thought, ‘There’s no way that’s the guy,'” she said. She decided to approach him anyway and found out it was indeed him. She thanked Wilson for what he had done on that nervewracking day five years earlier.
Kapcar went home and told the story on her Facebook page, along with a picture of Wilson with Vivian, clutching her American Girl doll.
“I told him how he sang to my belly, that TODAY is Vivi’s birthday and how his cheerful greeting has remained among the most special and sacred moments of that day five years ago,” she wrote.
Kapcar’s post was shared about 2,000 times, including by other mothers who had been comforted by Wilson’s sung greeting.
“It was just really overwhelming,” Wilson said of Kapcar’s gratitude. “People really appreciate (the singing), but no one’s (gone) out of their way to thank me for it.”
Wilson modestly downplayed the small gesture he offers on a big day for so many women.
“I just try to lighten the load,” he said. “From 6:30 in the morning until I get off, I’m singing ‘Happy Birthday.'”
Shortly before noon on a Monday, he was singing to Meghan Landers as she pulled up to the hospital with her mom, Donna Lynch, and her husband, Alex. It was two hours before her scheduled delivery. Landers was hungry — she had skipped breakfast — and, though it wasn’t the couple’s first birth, she was anxious.
“Happy Birthday, ba-by,” Wilson sang to Landers’ tummy. “Happy birthday, ba-by.”
Initially confused, Landers paled and started to tear up. This wasn’t just another appointment — she was about to give birth. Her husband rested his hand on her belly. They looked at each other.
“She was nervous,” Lynch said, turning to Wilson. “Now you calmed her down.”
More babies are delivered at Prentice — about 12,200 a year — than any other hospital in Illinois. Wilson, 45, has worked at the hospital for 17 years, and not much surprises him. He sings when everything is going according to schedule. But he keeps a pair of purple rubber gloves in his left jacket pocket, just in case.
“I’ve assisted on 10 deliveries,” he said. “I’ve opened car doors and seen babies’ heads sticking out. They call me the midwife of the driveway.”
He wears a clip-on tie because he’s had mothers grab on to him as they struggle through labor.
As he loads and unloads vehicles, he makes conversation. He checks in with mothers he recognizes from weekly checkups. He’s on familiar terms with doctors, nurses and staff members, who say hello as they walk by, sharing a laugh or high-fiving.
“He’s like the one guy in the hospital everyone knows,” said Megan McCann, a spokeswoman with Northwestern Memorial HealthCare.
Source: Chicago Tribune | Rachel Crosby