URUMQI, China – A little over a month ago, Zhang Xiaoyan lay in the rubble of her earthquake-shattered apartment building. Trapped for more than 50 hours, she prayed for the life of her unborn child.
“Even if I didn’t make it, I just wanted my baby to survive,” she said. “I was holding out hope during the earthquake that this day would come.”
That day was Wednesday, when Zhang’s daughter was born by Caesarean section in the Urumqi Maternal Care Hospital. Hours later, Zhang talked to the Associated Press as she reclined next to her newborn baby, a rosy-cheeked infant swaddled in a pink floral blanket.
Zhang’s dramatic rescue in the town of Dujiangyan – captured in photos and video footage that made their way around the globe – was a rare bright spot after the May 12 earthquake that ravaged mountainous Sichuan province and killed almost 70,000 people.
Emergency workers trying not to bring down the rest of the pancaked, seven-story building pulled out Zhang, 35. A bulldozer had to raise its scoop 18 feet so workers could lay her in it. As they did, a rescuer raised a thumbs-up to the crowd of neighbors, who cheered and clapped.
The image of the eight-month pregnant Zhang being carried on a stretcher – her stomach protruding from under a blue sweater and pink pants – was played on TV screens and newspapers across China as well as in media abroad. Her 63-year-old mother also was pulled out alive.
“When we were stuck in the debris there, I just held on to the hope that we would share this time we have here now,” said Zhang, who remarkably suffered only superficial injuries. “Because we were buried in there, we didn’t know if we’d ever get out, and I was just thinking, ‘Save my child. Save my child.’ “
Zhang named her 7-pound, 4-ounce girl “Ai,” or “Love,” in honor of the rescuers and other strangers who have showered her with kindness, gifts and VIP treatment since she was pulled out of the wreckage.
Because Zhang spent 50 hours trapped in the partially collapsed building, doctors said her unborn child initially suffered some dehydration and low blood sugar. By the time of her birth Wednesday, however, she had improved and doctors said she was healthy.
Because of the publicity stemming from her rescue, Zhang became something of a celebrity. She was flown first-class from Sichuan to Urumqi, located in her home region of Xinjiang in China’s far west, and was given a private room in the maternity hospital.