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Flexible crier: Roxborough baby born on a sled

One of a number of our memorable stories from 2014.

Bella Sung-Ah Sofia Bonnani: Bundle of joy
Bella Sung-Ah Sofia Bonnani: Bundle of joyRead more

WHEN meteorologists cry snow, city residents stock up on staples: bread, milk and eggs. Fabian Bonanni added to his pre-snowstorm shopping list Tuesday a plastic sled, the kind that kids throughout the city were using yesterday to glide down hills.

Bonanni's kid did that, too - and she was likely the youngest Philadelphian to do so.

Bella Sung-Ah Sofia Bonanni came into this world about 6 a.m. yesterday, as her mother sat outside in the sled that the pragmatic dad had purchased just hours before.

"The whole thing is just a blur," Fabian Bonanni, a pharmacist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, said yesterday. "It's so hard to sum up. All I can say is, make sure you always have a sled nearby."

The Bonannis live at the top of Cinnamon Drive, a quiet residential street in Roxborough whose steep grade makes it a perfect sledding spot. But what's good for sledding is often bad for driving - Fabian always has trouble getting the family's car up that hill in the snow, and he knew that the storm would pose a problem.

So, knowing that his wife, Shirley, was due at any moment, he bought the sled and kept it handy in case they'd have to make a quick exit to his car, which he parked at the base of the hill.

Early yesterday, Shirley gave him the signal: Bella was coming, fast.

"The contractions went from 10 minutes apart to, 'Oh, she's delivering right now,' " he said. "She couldn't walk; she was going into labor with every step."

That's about the time Ryan Gee looked out his window and saw Fabian frantically pulling his wailing wife down the hill in a bright-green sled.

"It was like something you'd see in a movie," Gee said. "At first, I thought they were having fun. It's probably the strangest thing to ever happen here."

Shirley's screams also got the attention of George Leader, an archaeology professor at the College of New Jersey who lives at the bottom of Cinnamon Drive, not far from where Fabian's car was waiting.

"I ran out after I heard the commotion," Leader said, "and it was clear that this was happening now.

"I just sprung into action; I wasn't even thinking."

Leader called 9-1-1 as Fabian delivered his daughter, scooping her into his arms as his wife braved the morning's subzero temperatures.

Fabian said that's when his adrenaline took over: He broke the umbilical cord with his hands, wrapped Bella in a blanket provided by Leader, and sprinted up the hill with his daughter.

"I felt like the old ladies in those commercials from the '80s that lift cars," he said. "When I got in, I just shut the door and cranked the temperature."

Back at the bottom of the hill, Leader and Fabian's parents, who had arrived at the neighborhood just before Shirley went into labor, pulled the new mother into Leader's living room.

There she sat, still in the sled, to warm up and wait for the paramedics to arrive.

"I've seen more crazy animal-kingdom things in the African bush," said Leader, who has done research in South Africa. "But nothing prepares you for something like this."

The paramedics came not long after, and rushed Fabian, Shirley and little Bella to Temple University Hospital, where the new family remained last night, along with the Bonannis' 2-year-old son, Logan.

"Right now, we're all just looking forward to a good night's sleep," Fabian Bonanni said. "That, and many happy years with our wonderful girl."