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COMMENTARY

Sean Kirst: At Sisters Hospital, welcoming Buffalo's 'hurricane baby'

A few days ago, Lance Cpl. Thomas Rosebraugh was studying his options at a kitchen table in Wilson. He pored over road maps with Steve LaRock, a retired school superintendent, whose family is providing Thomas and his wife Sheylee with temporary shelter.

Thomas is stationed at Camp Lejeune, along a North Carolina coastline hammered by Hurricane Florence. Worried about when he might need to report for duty, Thomas was thinking about packing up and heading back — but he and Sheylee were not sure it would be wise for her to attempt the ride.

Sheylee was pregnant, less than two weeks from her due date. If she left, and they found themselves stuck in traffic as people returned to the Carolinas, that could be trouble. If she did not go, and chose to stay in Wilson while Thomas returned to base, that meant her husband might miss the birth of their first child.

With all of these factors under discussion in the kitchen, Sheylee — seated nearby on a rubber exercise ball — suddenly put her head down on the table. "I think I might be in labor," she said to Claudia LaRock, Steve's wife. "Do I start counting from the end of one pain to the beginning of the next?"

Exactly, Claudia told her.

Sheylee and Thomas, both 21, went outside for a walk. They had gone about 200 feet, toward Chestnut Road, when Sheylee's water broke. Before long, a wife and husband who had never set foot in greater Buffalo until this month were hurrying toward Sisters Hospital.

At 12:26 a.m. Tuesday, after 14.5 hours of labor and 25 minutes of pushing, Sheylee gave birth to Charlotte Dixie Rosebraugh, an infant with a dark, lush head of hair.

Charlotte is a name Sheylee loves, while Dixie is the name of her mother's mother in Olympia, Wash. As for the child, she already holds a special niche in Buffalo.

At 7 pounds and 19.5 inches long, she is our hurricane baby.

Charlotte Dixie Rosebraugh, 7 pounds, 21 inches. (Robert Kirkham/The Buffalo News)

"It's love at first sight," said Thomas Rosebraugh, describing the first time he held his daughter. "It's like she's Sheylee and me put together, and I don't even know how to say this. She's here, and she'll be here after we're not, and there's no one else like her, anywhere."

In homage to the community that embraced his family, Thomas wore a Buffalo Bills cap, even if — as a guy who grew up in Washington — his loyalties tilt naturally toward the Seattle Seahawks.

"The truth is," he said, "we've had nothing but a run of good luck."

The couple met in fourth grade and started dating as teenagers. After graduating from high school, Thomas spent a year working for Firestone. He and Sheylee wanted to get married, and Thomas dreamed of a career driving a truck, but he was too young for an interstate commercial driver's license.

After thinking it over, he joined the Marines Corps, a decision that worked out well. The young couple held their wedding 18 months ago. While they quickly decided they wanted to have a child, they were not having any success as Thomas prepared for deployment to Okinawa.

Not long before he left, he came home and discovered a package had arrived. He expected it to contain an ignition solenoid he needed for his vehicle.

It did, but Sheylee had hidden something else inside. The package also held a positive pregnancy test, attached to a note that read, "You're going to be a daddy."

Thomas was thrilled. He is a passionate storyteller like his grandfather before him, Sheylee said, and she knows their child will grow up hearing countless well-told jokes and tales. Thomas soon departed for Okinawa, which meant he missed much of his wife's pregnancy, but he returned in plenty of time to be with Sheylee, once she delivered.

Sean Kirst: A WNY voice guides N.C. listeners through Florence

The problem was the hurricane. Even as Sheylee began thinking her baby might arrive a little early, forecasters were warning that Florence would be a devastating storm.

The couple knew they needed to get out. They thought about about driving to Raleigh or Charlotte, but they could not be sure how those cities would do with the hurricane. They also considered Tennessee, but that would mean spending a long time in a hotel, as well as uncertainty about a doctor and a hospital.

Their neighbors and good friends, Lance Cpl. Scott and Monica Hoyle, offered a solution. They were going home to Niagara County, to wait out the storm. Monica was only five months past delivering her own infant son, Scott, in North Carolina, and she wanted her family to be safe.

The Hoyles suggested the Rosebraughs come along. They also recommended Sisters as a maternity hospital, which led Sheylee to schedule a quick appointment with Dr. Jaime Rehmann Obst, an obstetrician who could step in to oversee the birth, if necessary.

Sheylee Rosebraugh with her infant daughter, Charlotte. (Robert Kirkham/The Buffalo News)

In Wilson, the couple stayed with Monica's grandparents, who had plenty of room and were even willing to watch Winston, the couple's bull terrier.

It all worked out beautifully, as Thomas often says. Under the care of Dr. Obst, the labor was just long enough for Stephanie Childers, Sheylee's mother, to fly in from Washington. She arrived with 45 minutes to spare — or, as Thomas put it, "by the skin of her teeth."

The Rosebraughs, who plan to leave this weekend for North Carolina, are grateful for their reception in Western New York. Not long before Charlotte's birth, they had a chance to visit Goat Island and Niagara Falls. Sheylee said she has fallen in love with Buffalo pizza, while Thomas decided to investigate Buffalo's intimate connection with Labatt Blue, a beer he had never tried.

He is happy to say he understands the attachment.

Sheylee, when asked what Charlotte means in her life, thought about it for a moment, then started crying as she held the infant close. She has been dreaming a lot about her grandmother Bonnie, a member of the Chehalis native community in Washington who died not long before Sheylee was born.

Somehow, Sheylee has this feeling Bonnie is around.

As for Sheylee's appreciative husband, he put everything together when asked how he will remember both Hurricane Florence and this last-minute journey to Buffalo.

"Well," Thomas said, "we got a baby out of it."

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

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