UPDATE | Dad hitches ride with strangers to see birth of first child
Sgt. Seth Craven was in a serious time crunch to see the birth of his first child.
His wife, Julie, was scheduled for a caesarian delivery of their son at 5:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9 in Charleston.
"I kept thinking he's not going to make it, he's not going to make it," said Julie Craven, Seth's wife. "This was a moment I just really didn't want him to miss."
Craven, 26, had to get around the world to be there, and he needed help for the home stretch.
He took off at 6 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5 from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he serves with the West Virginia National Guard. He flew to Kuwait and then to Philadelphia, where matters grew complicated.
He was just supposed to connect with a Wednesday flight to Charleston, but storms caused a cancellation. Craven stayed overnight in a hotel near the airport and was supposed to catch another flight at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Craven and other passengers were on board Thursday morning and getting ready to taxi when a maintenance issue required returning to the terminal. After about half an hour of remaining seated on the plane, everybody got off and went back inside.
After that was delay after delay until late afternoon.
“They just kept pushing it and pushing it,” Craven said. “If they had canceled from the beginning, I would have found a way home somehow. It would have given me more time to figure stuff out.”
But the situation had dragged out to the point that he was running out of options to be home in time. The storm from the prior night had caused a run on rental cars.
“Because of the storms, there were not rental vehicles at all from the airport,” he said. “The next flight wasn’t until 10:30 a.m. the next day. So I would have missed all of it.”
Fortunately, word of Craven’s plight started circulating among his fellow passengers while they also waited.
His story reached Charlene Vickers, programs director for AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership. Vickers and a few of her colleagues were trying to fly to Charleston for a Healthy Hoops program targeting asthma and obesity at the Downtown YWCA in Charleston.
“They kind of pointed to this gentleman and said that poor soul really needs to get back,” Vickers said. “That’s when I introduced myself.”
Vickers was also on deadline. The Healthy Hoops program was supposed to start at noon Friday. She lives in the Philadelphia area, so her 2014 Acura MDX was parked at the airport.
She introduced herself to Craven and said, “I’m getting to West Virginia tonight, come hell or high water. So are you willing to join this crazy party of ours?”
Craven didn’t even wait to get his suitcase. He rode shotgun for the eight hour drive with Vickers behind the wheel. In the back seats were Eryn Glassey, a program specialist for AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership, and Maureen George, a consultant and national asthma expert.
“I was glad to have somebody who knew the roads,” Vickers said. “There’s a lot of areas where you do not have cell phone service. I have lost my GPS signal many times in West Virginia.”
Craven was grateful for the ride and the company. The group pulled up at his house in Cross Lanes just past midnight, hours before Craven and his wife were scheduled to show up at the hospital.
"It was kind of hard to accept that somebody was just being that nice," said Craven. "I can't thank her enough. I wouldn't have been able to have that without her."
Craven's 9-pound, 8-ounce boy, Cooper, was born Friday morning. All went well.
“Luckily we had a healthy little boy, and Mom’s healthy. If it wasn’t for Charlene I never would have made it,” Craven said. “All she wanted in return was pictures of the baby.”
"I am thankful he was able to be here," said Julie. "It's a life-changing moment, and I am grateful he didn't have to miss it and I didn't have to go through it alone. Very thankful she was able to do that for us."
Craven’s emergency leave is set to end on August 20, but it could be extended, depending on how Julie recovers.
Craven says he only got about six or seven hours of sleep during his week of travel around the world. But it was worth it for the birth of his son, aided by strangers.
“It’s been an awesome few days,” he said. “I definitely want people to realize there are nice people out there.”