Lynette Hales was nearly 100 miles from Salt Lake City on a desolate stretch of highway — surrounded by nothing but barren salt flats — when her twin unborn babies decided it was time.
She had woken up that Sunday morning to unexpected contractions in a hotel room in the tiny Nevada gambling town of Wendover, where she went with friends for one final getaway before she settled into a life of diapers, bottles, and crying kids. She was only 30 weeks pregnant — about seven weeks before full gestation for twins — and thought her labor was weeks away.
Her husband had stayed home, but their longtime friend, Jim Gerber, was there to help. After he asked around and found out there was no nearby hospital, the two decided to make a run for it back to Salt Lake City, nearly two hours away.
They didn't even get close.
Hales, 39, gave birth to two boys on the side of Interstate 80 inside a green minivan near a giant metal statute with a fitting name: "The Tree of Life."
The first, Jeffrey Jr. or J.J., was born before the highway patrol or medics could arrive to help. The baby was a grayish-blue and wasn't breathing, Hales said.
"I was so scared that he wasn't going to make it and that my choice of being out there was going to cause my babies not to live," Hales said, holding back tears, at a news conference Monday evening.
She and Gerber revived the newborn using CPR and she kept talking to her baby boy as he gurgled and struggled to breathe.
"He would look up at me," she said. "I'm like, 'I'm not going to let you go.'"
The baby was still struggling when Utah State Trooper Nathan Powell arrived after speeding to the call from about 30 miles away.
"I could see the baby was purple," Powell said. "He didn't look real good."
Powell pulled out a suction tool to clear the baby's mouth and nose, and gave the infant oxygen. Just as the boy began to breathe on his own, Hales went into labor with the second baby.
With Gerber and a Toelle County sheriff's deputy staying with J.J., Powell and his fellow trooper moved over to help Hales deliver the second boy, Anthony James, or A.J. He came out feet first but was breathing.
"It gave out a big squawk," Powell said. "It was breathing much easier than the first one."
An ambulance arrived just as Powell was cutting the umbilical cord for the second baby boy, he said. Shortly afterward, two helicopters arrived with a team of high-risk pregnancy specialists. They flew Hales and her two baby boys to the Intermountain Medical Center in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.
The boys only weigh 3 pounds each and will likely remain in intensive care for weeks, but doctors say they are expected to be fine. Their mother hopes they'll be able to come home by her original due date in mid-August.
"They are such miracles," she said. "They are fighters."
At Monday's news conference, she and her husband of nine years, Jeff Hales, 47, held hands tightly with her mother, sister and two of her sons, ages 11 and 14, nearby. Jeff Hales was eating breakfast at home when he got the call from his wife Sunday morning.
"It was shocking," he said. "You are where, what?"
When he got over the initial shock, he sped to the hospital where his wife and newborns were being taken. The two little boys join the four children each has from previous relationships.
"They are beautiful," Jeff Hales said with a big smile.
Lynette Hales thanked the troopers and Gerber for helping the babies survive, saying they never gave up and kept her calm. State Trooper Cameron Fawson said it was Gerber and Lynette Hales who should be applauded for staying calm through the high-stress ordeal.
"Mom was quite the sport," Fawson said. "I think she was keeping me calm."
Fawson said roadside births are common on this stretch of highway — this was the second set of twins troopers have delivered along I-80 in Tooele County in about a year — but this was a first time for him, Powell and the third officer, Toelle County Sheriff's Deputy Eric McCollum.
"It definitely was not what I expected for a Sunday morning," Fawson said. "I was out looking for speeders."
Gerber, 44, thought he would be one of them. When the retired Navy corpsman and medical instructor made the 911 call, he alerted highway patrol troopers that a green minivan was going to come speeding by with a woman in labor.
"If you see a green smear pass your car, it's probably me," Gerber said he told them. "And don't pull me over because I have a situation."
Shortly after, though, a dispatcher told Gerber to pull over and stay put. In the end, it all worked out with a happy ending that that will someday make for one heck of a story to tell A.J. and J.J.
"It was hard, it was scary," Lynette Hales said. "It was a moment like no other."