Joy Comes in the Morning

Morristown-Hamblen Team Delivers Baby in the Midst of a Mother’s Emergency

It was December 2021, Christmas was coming, and Elizabeth Nelson was eight months pregnant. When she woke up sick at her home in Jefferson County, it started a series of events that no one saw coming.

Elizabeth began having seizures and then she went into labor. The emergency room charge nurse on duty still remembers the morning when emergency personnel wheeled the expectant mother through the doors of Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, a member hospital of Covenant Health.

“She was basically unresponsive in the emergency department,” says Terri Testerman, RN. “She was unable to talk, unable to tell us anything.”

In a matter of minutes, Elizabeth was surrounded by a team delivering quick care in tense moments.

“It’s like a well-oiled machine. We just all know what we need to do and we work as a team and do it,” Testerman says.

Michelle Lemberger, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN at the hospital, was at Elizabeth’s side within one minute of the patient’s arrival.

“I literally had a team of people running with me and pushing Elizabeth on a gurney,” Dr. Lemberger says. “Her infant in her uterus was suffering from low heart rate as a result of her condition.”

Lexi Elkins, RN, was Elizabeth’s primary nurse in labor and delivery. “We went immediately onto the elevator to the labor and delivery unit and directly to the operating room,” she says. Within three minutes the team had begun a C-Section.

Nate Nelson and baby

Caring for Two

Baby Noelle Joy was safely delivered, and then care was instantly set in place for the mother. In critical condition and on a ventilator, Elizabeth exhibited signs of a stroke and potential brain damage.

Morristown-Hamblen is certified as an advanced primary stroke center and is part of Covenant Health’s stroke hospital network. After receiving initial care at Morristown-Hamblen, Elizabeth was flown to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville. The hub of Covenant’s stroke hospital network, Fort Sanders Regional is an accredited Comprehensive Stroke Center offering advanced diagnostics, neurology services and treatment for complex stroke cases.

It was a challenge Nate Nelson never expected to face. A healthy baby was in his arms, but his wife was nearby, still in the grip of a life-threatening medical emergency.

Friends and family took care of the couple’s other three children while Nate remained at the hospital caring for the baby with feedings, diaper changes and skin-to-skin time. The tasks at hand helped keep his mind off of Elizabeth’s condition, and his faith assured him that everything would work out for the good.

“The nursing staff was amazing,” Nate says. “They made sure I was OK through every minute.”

The Diagnosis

Elizabeth experienced a condition called posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES), which has neurological symptoms that often occur with stroke. “The neurologic findings Elizabeth initially demonstrated were reversible as her brain edema and blood pressure improved,” Dr. Lemberger explains.

Nate hasn’t forgotten the moment he saw his wife as she was about to be airlifted to Knoxville. “I had no idea how bad it was, and I just kept asking, ‘She’s stable, right?’” Nate recalls. “In the hall, I had a moment with her and Jesus. I looked at her and told her she wasn’t allowed to leave; she had four kids who needed her.”

By the time Elizabeth arrived in Knoxville, she was already getting better. When she regained consciousness, she didn’t know where she was or what had happened, and she didn’t even know whether she was still pregnant. But she finally got to meet Noelle Joy.

“I was amazed at how tiny she was!” Elizabeth says. “It was really wonderful to finally be able to hold her and see her up close.”

Grace and Expert Care

Baby Noelle Nelson

Today Noelle Joy is part of a busy household with three big brothers and loving parents. Her arrival may have been a bit unconventional, but she is thriving.

“She loves cuddles and talking to us,” Elizabeth says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what God will do in her life.”

When Nate looks back on those first days of her life, he marvels at God’s grace in bringing his family through its most challenging time. Elizabeth calls the experience “surreal.”

During a visit to Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System later, Nate and Elizabeth found out that many who had cared for Elizabeth and the baby or had heard about their story had prayed for the family.

“There was one word we all agreed on – miracle,” Nate says.

For Dr. Lemberger, it’s also a great example of the knowledge and team approach at Morristown-Hamblen. Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System is home to a Women’s Center with care providers trained to handle all aspects of pregnancies.

“The whole team responded quickly and effectively to result in a mom and baby who are both alive and well today,” she says.

Morristown-Hamblen has been named a “Best for Babies” hospital by the Tennessee Hospital Association and the Tennessee Department of Health. To learn more about childbirth services and other hospital specialties, call 423-492-9000 or visit

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