Meet the Corneliuses, the ambassador family for the 2019 March of Dimes' March for Babies walk in Daytona.
Ormond Beach resident Ashley Cornelius was exactly 28 weeks pregnant when her water broke.
It was a Monday — Sept. 12, 2016. Her baby stopped moving, and the thought of losing him when she was less than three months away from her due date terrified her. She and her husband, Scott, rushed to Halifax Health, and that sparked what would become an eventful 48 hours for the family.
“It was scary," Ashley Cornelius said. "There was a lot of emotions and thoughts and just everything. It was a whirlwind of a day.”
As she was being admitted, she felt her son move, and felt relief. Then, doctors told her that there were two possibilities: Her son might be born any second, or she might have to stay in the hospital until she was 34 weeks along. Either way, her son was going to be born premature.
The couple felt overwhelmed. The Corneliuses had just opened the Tomoka Outpost inside Tomoka State Park, and they still had a long way to go in preparing for a new baby. Ashley Cornelius hadn't even had her baby shower yet.
She hadn't had an easy pregnancy, either. Ashley Cornelius was considered to be high-risk because of two prior miscarriages and was monitored very closely throughout her pregnancy.
“Every time we went to the doctor’s, we weren’t expecting bad news, but we had the thought in our mind, ‘is this going to be number three?’” Scott Cornelius said.
He stayed with her that night in the hospital, but he had to leave in the morning to go to work. Her parents came in to keep her company, and nothing much had changed with her baby. He was doing fine and his heart rate was up.
Until it wasn't. Her son's heart rate dropped in the afternoon. She recalled the way doctors and nurses rushed into the room, prepping her for an emergency C-section on the way to the operating room.
“There was no wasting time here," Ashley Cornelius said. "It needed to be done right away.”
'It felt like my life was in slow motion'
Whenn Scott Cornelius got the call on that his wife was in labor, he was inside the Tomoka Outpost. He quickly locked up, took his dogs home and raced to the hospital.
“It felt like my life was in slow motion," he said. "It would be like standing on stage in front of a million people for the first time ever, where you probably feel like you’re not where you are right now.”
His only thought was that he needed to get to the hospital as fast as he could. So he flagged down a police officer after turning left on Clyde Morris Boulevard from Granada Boulevard. He doesn't remember what agency the officer belonged to, but he definitely remembers what the officer did for him.
Scott Cornelius motioned to the officer to roll down his window, and informed him his wife was in labor and that he needed help getting to the hospital.
"And he looks at me like he thought she was in the car with me having the baby," Scott Cornelius said. "He thought he was going to have to deliver a baby.”
After clarifying, the police officer told him to follow him, and that he'd be okay. They zig-zagged through traffic all the way until the officer turned on Dunn Avenue, and Scott Cornelius continued on to Halifax Health.
“It was one of the neatest things ever," he said. "I felt like I was in a movie.”
He parked his car and ran up the the main entrance to the hospital. He remembered the way the security officers looked at him then.
“I’m like, ‘My wife is having a baby. Can I just go?’" he recalled. "And they’re like, ‘Go! Go!’”
When he gets to the floor Ashley Cornelius is at, he is embraced and congratulated by his parents and in-laws. Confused, he asks to see the baby and his wife. A nurse brings him to the end of a hallway. To the left is his baby, she tells him, and to the right is wife. Neither of which he can see at that moment.
He spends the next 20 minutes sitting in the hallway with his head in his hands wondering what was going on.
It takes 45 seconds for Scott Cornelius, Jr. to be born on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. He weighed 2 pounds and 4 ounces.
“After he was born, that night I recall Scott and I both sitting there staring at the wall," Ashley Cornelius said. "Like, what just happened?”
They had been able to see their son, whom they call Scotty, that first day in the neonatal intensive care unit. All they could do was hold his hand.
“It barely wrapped around my fingertip," Scott Cornelius said.
Scotty would spend the next nine weeks in the NICU. Every
milestone thereafter was a cause of celebration — from the first time they were able to hold him, to his first smile. It's hard to have a baby in the NICU, Ashley Cornelius said, but having the nurses help you is like having parental personal trainers.
“It was quite an experience in the fact that you deal with a lot of emotions," Ashley Cornelius said. "You learn a lot. You have this whole new respect for nurses and doctors.”
The Corneliuses said they didn't know how much they owed to March of Dimes until they had Scotty. It's an honor for them to serve as the organization's ambassador family for the Daytona Beach walk. They want families who are going through similar circumstances to know they're not alone.
Scotty is now two years old, loves being outside, and described as one of the "happiest little boys you'll ever meet" by his parents. Scott Cornelius said he's a pinball.
“I’ve always said that he knows he’s lucky," Ashley Cornelius said. "He knows he’s a miracle.”