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Running on empty: LaPorte couple’s unforgettable journey to deliver Leap Day baby at Memorial Hospital

Leap Day baby Eliza Shea Dooley.

Hannah Dooley has always been bad about putting gas in her car.

So while it did not come as a complete surprise early Thursday morning to find their tank on empty, the timing could not have been worse. Hannah was having contractions in the passenger seat as her husband, Ryan, tried to find a gas station open at 4 a.m. between their LaPorte home and Memorial Hospital in South Bend.

“Of all days for this to happen…” she recalls Ryan saying sometime between the first station they pulled into that was closed, and the second in New Carlisle that they were lucky to find open.

Hannah was scheduled for a c-section next week, but their baby clearly clearly had other plans in mind.

“My husband is always telling me, ‘Hannah, you have to work on not running so low on gas because it’s bad for your car.’ But he knows this is who I am. I’ve always been this way,” she said in a lighthearted way.

“But this morning even I was nervous — about the gas, not about our baby. We were ready for her.”

Hannah and Ryan Dooley of LaPorte welcomed Eliza on Leap Day.

Eliza Shea Dooley is the couple’s Leap Day baby, born at 5:55 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 29, weighing in at 8-pounds-9-ounces and measuring just over 20-inches-long. The Dooley’s second child arrived quickly, not much more than an hour after they arrived at Memorial Hospital.

Ryne, 20 months old, met his “Leapling” sister this afternoon. “He was puzzled and I think he was concerned about his Mama,” Hannah said. “But he kept saying ‘pet’ and would pet her hair because he knows how we pet our dogs so gently.”

So far, baby Eliza seems very calm, very content.

“And she’s as cute as a button,” Hannah said.

“But I have a feeling there will be a side of her that is strong-willed or she would have arrived any day besides Leap Day,” she said. “I was looking it up and Leap Day is considered one of the rarest birthdays.” By some accounts, the odds of being born on Feb. 29 are 1-in-1,461.

They plan to celebrate Eliza’s birthday on the last day of February during non-Leap Day years, since Hannah says her baby girl is technically considered a February birthday.

Considering how things might have turned out today had they not found a place to refuel, one might wonder if Hannah might change her ways when it comes to running on empty.

“Not a chance,” Hannah said with a laugh. “I have a great husband who will always come save me.”

Hannah Dooley and her new baby girl, Eliza. 

Memorial RN Amy Allsop with Hannah and Eliza Dooley.

About Heidi Prescott

Passionate about writing her whole life, Heidi Prescott joined Beacon Health System in 2015 and currently serves as Senior Media Relations Strategist. A former newspaper journalist who has experience in TV, radio, magazines and social media, Heidi loves storytelling, photography and spending time in nature.