A Lincoln County paramedic may have assisted baby deliveries outside the hospital before, but never the delivery of his own daughter, born in a vehicle in a Charlotte fast food restaurant parking lot earlier this month.
Paul DuPree said he watched his girlfriend, Erin Castro, give birth to their first child over Valentine’s Day weekend.
For the duration of Castro’s pregnancy, he often joked they wouldn’t make it to the hospital and have to deliver their first child together, never truly believing the scenario would be a reality.
Castro noted how one of her greatest fears over the last nine months was the possibility of delivering without an epidural.
However, nearly two weeks before her due date, which doctors set for Thursday, Harper Lynn DuPree entered the world.
The Pumpkin Center couple shared how they had visited Carolinas Medical Center-Main during the early morning hours of Feb. 15.
“At 5:15 a.m., I woke him up,” Castro said, “and knew it was time to go the hospital.”
More than five hours later, medical officials sent her home.
“They said she wasn’t dilated enough,” DuPree said.
While waiting at their home on Ore Bank Drive, Castro carried about her day, even cooking dinner, she said.
She continued to feel severe contractions, roughly 10 minutes apart.
“I said, ‘You can’t hurt like this all night,’” DuPree said.
Around 11 p.m., the couple called the doctor, who told them to return to CMC-Main immediately.
It seemed the adventurous night had only begun for the local pair after learning their van’s battery had died from one of their children leaving a door open.
Finally, after using jumper cables to start the vehicle, they continued on their way down N.C. 16.
“Contractions got worse and worse the whole way down the road,” Castro said. “I just remember holding the handle in the car and holding myself up in the air.”
It wasn’t long before her water broke, ironically, near the Franklin Water Treatment Plant in Charlotte.
DuPree said, at the time, he still wasn’t sure it was time for his girlfriend to deliver.
“He was convinced that maybe we could (still) make it to the hospital,” Castro said laughing.
Low on gas, they also feared they might stall on the side of the road, but Castro continued to keep from pushing, still hoping an epidural might be in her near future.
However, it wasn’t long before the baby began to enter the world.
DuPree said he had already called Mecklenburg County 911 and alerted emergency crews to the situation.
While the dispatcher tried to persuade the couple to pull over into a nearby neighborhood, they weren’t so sure the closest residential areas proved safe enough to stop.
“I was so scared,” Castro said.
Instead, DuPree kept driving until he reached a Jack in the Box restaurant on N.C. 16 in Charlotte, near the I-85 intersection, he said.
With a car seat already tucked in behind Castro’s chair, she was unable to recline during the event, prompting her to give birth sitting up, seatbelt still fastened.
Harper’s head was born as the couple pulled into the restaurant lot, Castro said, and following a second push, the baby’s shoulders entered the world.
The whole event happened quickly, before DuPree could exit the vehicle to assist her.
While the couple had started the chaotic adventure late that Saturday night, Harper was born the following morning, Feb. 16, at 12:31 a.m.
In addition to initially not having medical assistance, the parents faced the night’s threatening cold temperatures after turning off the vehicle to conserve gas, DuPree said.
They feared how to keep their new baby warm but simultaneously worried about the umbilical cord they spotted wrapped around her body.
DuPree worked to remove it, finally watching Harper take her first breaths.
Once Charlotte fire crews and local EMS arrived on scene, DuPree assisted them in cutting the cord, using his own shoelaces to tie it off.
“I usually don’t wear shoelaces,” he said, “but I wore tennis shoes that day.”
For Castro, she was not only relieved to see her baby OK but also thankful she didn’t give birth in Lincoln County, since the couple typically stops for gas at the Wal-Mart service station in Denver.
Because DuPree serves as a paramedic supervisor with the county’s Emergency Medical Services, she believed the event would have been a more grandiose affair with his fellow co-workers on scene.
However, the couple still seemed to receive what they called “celebrity” treatment everywhere they went.
“All the nurses were clapping for us (at the hospital),” Castro said.
Fire crews even waited for DuPree to stop and get gas before leading him to the hospital.
“They left their jurisdiction to help us,” he said.
In the days that followed Harper’s birth, the family’s story quickly spread throughout the community.
“It seems like everywhere we go,” DuPree said, “they’ve already heard about us.”
Castro said they named their new baby after Ben Harper, one of their favorite singers, and Harper Lee, the author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
She added that the name Lynn is the middle name of both her best friend and cousin.
The couple have three other children, including Castro’s two girls from a previous relationship and DuPree’s son.
In addition to celebrating the birth of his daughter, DuPree also recently received a special career honor — the Public Servant EMT/Paramedic Award from the Veteran’s of Foreign War Post 1706 in Lincolnton.
DuPree was given the honor at both the local and state level, he said.