Sgt. Seth Craven was in a serious time crunch to see the birth of his first child.
His wife, Julie, was scheduled for a cesarean delivery of their son at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 9, in Charleston, W.Va.
Craven, 26, had to get around the world to be there, and he needed help for the homestretch.
He was supposed to connect with a Wednesday flight from Philly 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 the plane to return to the terminal. Everyone disembarked and reentered the terminal to await further instructions.
Then there were delays after delays 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.”
As the situation dragged on, Craven was running out of options to get home in time for Julie’s C-section. The inclement weather from the prior night had caused a run on rental cars.
“Because of the storms, there were no 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" his child’s birth.
Fortunately, word of Craven’s plight had been circulating among his fellow Philly-to-Charleston passengers as they, too, waited.
His story reached Charlene Vickers, programs director for AmeriHealth Caritas Partnership, located here in Philly. Vickers and two of her colleagues needed to fly to Charleston for a program called Healthy Hoops that targets asthma and obesity. The program was scheduled to start at noon Friday at the Downtown Charleston YWCA. She lives in the Philadelphia area and had driven to the airport, so her 2014 Acura MDX was parked in the airport lot.
“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. I 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 backseats 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, a Charleston suburb, just past midnight on Friday morning. His wife delivered Cooper -- a 9-pound, 8-ounce boy -- just hours later. All went well.
“Luckily, we had a healthy little boy, and Mom’s healthy," Craven said. "If it wasn’t for Charlene I never would have made it. All she wanted in return was pictures of the baby.”
Craven says he got only about six or seven hours of sleep during his five days 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.”
Brad McElhinny is a reporter for West Virginia MetroNews.