EAGLE COUNTY - Imagine a pregnant woman in labor having to go all the way to Denver to have her baby.
Not too long ago, that's exactly what most expectant parents in Eagle County had to do.
That's why Jan. 10, 1980 - 25 years ago Monday - is of particular importance to the Vail Valley Medical Center and health care in Eagle County. It was the first time a baby was born in Vail on purpose.
"Prior to that, babies that were born here were on stormy nights when they couldn't get down to Denver," said Dr. Kent Petrie.
Petrie was the physician who delivered the Vail Valley Medical Center's first baby - a boy named Cody Merle Kuehl. His birth to parents Barbara and Randy Kuehl of Edwards was such a big deal to the community then that hospital staff called in periodic updates to a local radio station deejay, who announced the mother's cervical dilation over the airwaves.
"This was before patient confidentiality laws," Petrie said.
Things have changed since then. Petrie, who moved here in late 1979, notes how much the local hospital has grown in size and advanced in technology. But that day in January, back when the hospital was a clinic and it had less than 20 beds, is a fond memory for veteran staff.
"This town made it up to be such a big deal," said Anne Robinson, a perinatal educator for the hospital.
A day of many firsts
Petrie started at the Vail Hospital, as it was called then, in August of 1979. It was his first medical practice after finishing his residency in St. Paul, Minn. He was immediately assigned to set up a maternity care center at the hospital.
"I was kind of excited about it," he said.
There was one birthing room, which was considered state-of-the-art at the time, Robinson said. Even in Denver, women still were giving birth in operating rooms.
The hospital still didn't have an obstetrician at this time (one came on year later), so Petrie was responsible for deliveries. The hospital was not equipped to deal with Caesarian sections or high-risk deliveries, either.
The Kuehl baby was not only the hospital's first planned delivery, it was the Kuehls' first baby. Cody Kuehl was first to become a third-generation Eagle Countian; his grandmother, Carol Favale, also lived in Edwards. It was Petrie's first official delivery, too.
The maternity care center opened Jan. 1, 1980. Nine days passed. Then Barbara Kuehl went into labor.
"The excitement spread through the hospital and the valley," Petrie said. "We were all a little nervous. It made me pretty nervous."
Lights, camera, action
Making things even more exciting - or nerve-wracking - was that the TV show "Hart to Hart" was filming an episode in the Vail hospital.
The film crews and the show's stars, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers, even got caught up in the excitement. The stars signed autographs for the family once the baby was born, Robinson said.
The show's impact on the hospital was long lasting.
"The hospital didn't have an official sign on West Meadow Drive," Petrie said. "So the crews quickly made a nice sign. That sign stayed up for at least six months. We never took it down until the snow melted."
The main event
Cody Merle Kuehl was born at 2:40 p.m. on Jan. 10, 1980. His arrival made the front page of the now-defunct Vail Villager and was covered by the Vail Trail.
"It went very smoothly," Petrie is quoted as saying in the Vail Trail article.
There were 70 births in the hospital that year, Robinson said.
That number has grown considerably over the years.
"We had 70 births last month," Petrie said.
Business is booming at the hospital's ever-more-advanced maternity ward. Hospital official say there were 600 births in 2004.
But that day in 1980 had a significant impact on Petrie, who planned only to stay a year in Vail.
"I was under the impression that I would just see tourists with orthopedic injuries from skiing, or with sore throats," he said. "That was very quickly changed when experiences like caring for a family that really was a three-generation family in town.
"I think that experience early on was that Vail really was a wonderful place to live," he said.