By Brent Hopkins Staff Writer
The doctors and nurses gathered around Kristina Ripatti, waiting and hoping for a miracle.
The retired Los Angeles police officer had spent plenty of time in hospitals in the past year and a half, recovering from a bullet to the spine suffered in the line of duty.
But this was different. She could feel nothing below her chest, and her once powerful body was limp.
“Push!” the doctor growled.
He had a scalpel and a suction machine at the ready in case something went wrong.
Ripatti bore down with all the force she could in her abdomen. Long dormant muscles began to work. A tiny head appeared.
At 4:37 p.m. Wednesday, the paralyzed ex-cop from Redondo Beach gave birth to a blue-eyed, black-haired, 5-pound, 8-ounce, 19-inch, healthy baby boy. Nurses swabbed and swaddled him, and the family went back up to her private room at the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance.
“What’s his name?” grandmother Jean Pearce asked.
“Lucas Braeden,” Ripatti breathed.
“A baby!” cheered 2-year-old Jordan Pearce, a big sister for the first time.
Nearly 10 hours earlier, a red pickup slid into the handicapped space in front of the hospital with Ripatti in the passenger seat.
LAPD Officer Tim Pearce stepped from the cab, strode around to the other side of the truck and lifted out his wife. She settled into her wheelchair and readied herself.
She’d faced down gangsters, gave chase into crack houses and felt bullets chew into her skin. She’d lost her career, struggled to adjust to life in a wheelchair and life in the public eye. But now Ripatti was nervous.”He keeps saying, `Just relax,”‘ she said. “Oh yeah, I’m not doing anything here. Just having a baby.”
She cranked her arms and rolled into the hospital under her own power. Eight months pregnant, due to give birth in a few hours, she wanted no help as she checked herself into the maternity ward.
“Wow, is she that cop from `Extreme (Home) Makeover?”‘ a cleaning woman asked as Ripatti rolled past, referring to the reality show that featured the Redondo Beach home of Ripatti and her husband in the fall of 2006. “I love her.”
Sgt. Deana Stark, her best friend, and Detective Joe Meyer, her partner, and her family accompanied her inside. With assistance out of the chair, she settled into bed and a nurse hooked her up to monitors.
The baby’s heart began thumping softly, the beat filling the room.
Ripatti nervously chewed a fingernail.
“Even though we already had one, it’s like starting all over again,” she said, eyeing the monitor. “Looks like I just had a contraction.”
The long wait began. The hours ticked by. A doctor administered an epidural and Ripatti settled in, unfeeling but still uncomfortable.
She talked sports, police work and baby names.
“We had all this time to think about it, and what does Tim do?” she said. “At 1 a.m., he asks me, `What do you think of this one?”‘
They cycled through the options, male and female. Still nothing final. Jaden for a girl? Braeden for a boy? The crowd tossed out middle names. The conversation shifted to what point it will be OK for everyone to cry as her friends rubbed her feet and offered encouragement.
Speculation ran 10-to-1 it would be a boy.
Midafternoon, her water broke. By 4:15 p.m., she was ready to go. The family suited up in scrubs and wheeled her to the operating room.
“We’re having a baby,” she hummed on her way out the door.
And, half an hour later, she did. The family rejoiced as nurses wheeled her back into her room. Siblings, parents, grandparents and friends leaned in to see the latest addition to the huge extended family.
“Look, it’s your brother, Lucas,” Ripatti told Jordan, her eyes filled with tears as her daughter stroked the baby’s face.
Then her fellow cops leaned in, one by one, quietly offering congratulations and kisses. The baby had fine hands for a future police officer, they agreed, or perhaps a football player.
“Now I can say it,” she said, softly. “I wanted a boy.”
Pearce stood proudly at her side, beaming as he looked down at his newborn son. He leaned down and kissed his wife’s forehead, then stepped aside to let the nurses go back to work.
“I could see it in her eyes,” he said. “This made her whole again.
“When she had this baby, she took back her life.”