BURRILLVILLE – As Lucille S. Guilbault remembers the Blizzard of ’78 with lots of other local folks today, she will be thinking more about birthday candles than the storm’s incredible depths and drifts of snow.
In addition to today being the 35th anniversary of the big storm, it’s also the 35th birthday of Guilbault’s daughter, Rebecca.
As the storm’s heaviest snows started to blanket the area in the early afternoon of Feb. 6, 1978, Guilbault began going into labor and was soon worrying about how she would get to the delivery room at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence.
What happened over the next few hours is a story for her family to chuckle and smile about today, but only because everything worked out well. Rebecca Triplett only knows the story as her mother tells it.
“Oh, she laughs about it but she doesn’t remember anything,” Guilbault said. “But I always say ‘you were born on a snowflake,’ the proud mom said.
‘Becca’ remembers having had a special beginning in life from the way her late grandparents, Lionel and Theresa Guilbault, would introduce her to their friends when going out to breakfast on Sundays.
“They always introduced me as the Blizzard Baby,” Triplett said.
Lucille Guilbault said her story about the Blizzard of `78 begins with her pregnancy with Becca reaching full term.
Her obstetrician, Dr. Boudreau, expected her to come into Women & Infants when her labor began. As the snow started to pile up at her home on Wakefield Road near Buck Hill in Pascoag, Guilbault’s membranes broke and she knew immediately that getting to the hospital could be a problem.
The snowfall had already made roads in her remote corner of Pascoag impassible to cars, and she and her husband, Richard, began to think about alternative transportation to the hospital.
“I called a friend who worked for an ambulance company, Nancy Binns, and she tried to get a four-wheel drive vehicle to come out and get me,” she said.
Guilbault and her husband had to walk down their driveway to meet the driver and then rode in the truck until it got stuck in the snow.
The couple got hold of local police and the State Police for help and finally were told a State Police four-wheel drive vehicle would attempt to make their rescue.
The trooper reached them, Guilbault remembers, and transported them out to Glendale, where he also became stuck. A town snowplow took over at that point and got the couple to Route 44 in Chepachet. The storm had become so bad, Guilbault said, it was impossible to tell where the road ended and the nearby lake began. Another change of trucks was made in Chepachet and the couple continued on with a new driver, she remembers.
Guilbault was in labor throughout the couple’s travels, but luckily her labor did not proceed to delivery at a fast rate. Today she estimates it took more than three hours to reach Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence. Fatima did not have a maternity unit at the time but was the closest hospital they could get to. The conditions were so bad when they finally reached High Service Avenue in North Providence, the truck driver had to back up the road and let the Guilbaults off to walk up the driveway.
Guilbault’s “Blizzard” story didn’t end with her arrival at Fatima, but just entered a new chapter.
Fatima lacked a maternity ward so the hospital made a temporary delivery room in one of its operating rooms. The staff members Guilbault dealt with were very helpful and pleasant and even excited over the fact a baby was about to be born in their facility, she remembers.
“They didn’t have an obstetrician on staff so they found a surgeon that lived a few roads away, Dr. Indeglia, and he agreed to come,” she said. Dr. Indeglia, a cardiac surgeon, monitored Guilbault through the rest of her labor and ultimately delivered Rebecca by C-section.
“I had a spinal tap and I watched her delivered,” said Guilbault, who, like her husband, is a registered nurse.
Since Fatima didn’t have a maternity suite, the staff had to improvise an incubator for Rebecca and used a padded cart and hot water bottles to keep her warm.
The Blizzard of `78 also brought two other women to Fatima to deliver their babies and Guilbault remembers that the families later had their christenings at the hospital to commemorate its blizzard deliveries.
The Guilbaults spent five days at the hospital as a result of the storm shutting down roads throughout the area and missed some of the hardest impacts it meted to local communities. More than 50 people were listed as fatalities of the storm and its record snowfalls in New England.
When they did arrive back home in Pascoag, Guilbault said, the family found that a neighbor had assisted their horse, Rapidan Flash, by feeding it through a partially open door to their snow-buried barn.
The story of Rebecca’s birth made the news but was then quickly forgotten “because there was a lot going on that affected people’s lives,” Guilbault said.
The Blizzard of ’78 was a record event across the Southeastern New England area and shut down highways in Rhode Island and Connecticut for much of a week. Woonsocket was buried under 54 inches of snow and required the help of National Guardsmen and a large excavator from Buffalo, N.Y. to reopen its roads.
Rebecca said this week that she was highlighted again as a Blizzard Baby when WJAR television did a piece on her for the 25th anniversary of the storm. Today, Becca works as a stuntwoman in the movie industry along with her husband, Matt Triplett, and as a horse trainer at her family’s farm. She said her friends will only know about her being born during the Great Blizzard if they visit her Facebook page and see some of the old photos and news stories.
Guilbault said she doesn’t find Becca’s job as a stuntwoman unusual given the events of her birth.
Her friends also see a connection to her work, Becca said, when they hear her story.
“They say ‘that’s kind of different and that explains a lot!’” she said.
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