WEIRTON After working a double closing shift at Olive Garden in Robinson Township, 24-year-old Drew Purks had been looking forward to getting some much-needed sleep Jan. 16. Just a few hours later he found himself helping his girlfriend, Corinne Laughlin, give birth to their first baby in the front seat of a Pontiac G6.
Laughlin, also 24, had a due date of Jan. 14, and by that time she had already experienced at least a week of painful contractions. When she and Purks visited their doctor in Sewickley, Pa., that Tuesday, they were told she was not ready and went back home to Weirton. The contractions continued.
"She was just miserable," Purks said. "It was horrible. She couldn't move out of the bed."
BORN ON THE HIGHWAY — Drew Purks and Corinne Laughlin were breathing a sigh of relief to have their son Elijah James safe and warm at home. The new parents delivered their baby Jan. 16 in the front seat of a car along U.S. 22. -- Shae Dalrymple
Purks went to work Jan. 15 hoping Laughlin and their unborn baby would be OK for the length of his shift. When he returned in the early hours of the morning Jan. 16, he only got a few hours of sleep before he suddenly woke to screaming. Laughlin's water broke, and the bed was covered in bodily fluids.
"It was so freaking scary," he recalled.
They rushed to the car and headed for Sewickley, Pa. nearly 45 minutes away. About 15 minutes into the drive, Laughlin said she felt the baby's head. She told him to stop at Weirton Medical Center, which was much closer, but Purks thought they could make it to their doctors - the ones they knew and trusted.
"I was flying down 22 at a hundred miles an hour with my flashers on, freaking out, and she's screaming at me to pull over," he said. "I just remember stopping and the only sign I could see was McDonald Midway sign, exit one mile. I looked over, and Corinne already had a hold of his head. I could see his hair."
After pulling over, Purks called 911 and received advice not to cut the umbilical cord and to remove fluids from the baby's mouth and nose. He was also told to keep the car running and warm and to try to avoid letting frigid winter air inside where the baby might be exposed to it.
"I just took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves, and she stayed right there in the front seat," he said.
Purks spoke with pride as he described Laughlin's unorthodox method in the moment of truth.
"She lifted her body up on the dashboard. I don't know how she did it," he said. "She's amazing."
As Laughlin pushed, Purks guided the baby out.
"It was kind of like a suction cup. It was so weird," he chuckled. "I was trying to remember everything possible from all the doctor shows and movies I've watched."
In an instance of good luck, there were clean towels in the back seat - extras left over from a spill that happened around Christmas. Purks used them to clear the baby's nose and mouth of fluids and to keep him warm.
"I wrapped up the baby and handed him to Corinne, and she just started smiling," he said.
"I was so relieved when I heard him crying," Laughlin said. "After that I couldn't stop smiling, and I didn't want to let him go."
"I didn't really get to experience the emotions of having your first kid because I was just so freaked out about them being alright. I just kept asking 'Are you OK?' because there was blood all over the place," Purks said.
A Pennsylvania state trooper was the first to arrive at the scene, according to the couple.
"He wouldn't even walk over to the passenger side to see Corinne because he so didn't want to see that. He said 'You handled it fine, just stay there and handle it,' and I was like 'I don't even know what I'm doing!'"
By coincidence, Purks' cousin, Tanya Vudrogovic, recognized the Pontiac on the side of U.S. 22 as she drove to work at American Airlines that morning. She was the second to stop, making the event a true family affair.
Soon after, the ambulance arrived with a nurse, and she cut the umbilical cord on the spot in front of the McDonald Midway sign, a spot Purks drives past every day on the way to work.
Laughlin was transported with her newborn son back to Weirton Medical Center in the ambulance, and Purks followed in the car.
"I pulled into the parking lot, and I just started puking because I saw that my son and Corinne were alright, and I could finally release some of that emotion. I was crying and puking all at once. I was in a state of shock," he remembered. "When we got into the hospital nurses kept asking me if I was OK, and I just kept looking at my hands, at the blood. I could barely speak."
Elijah James Purks was born healthy, weighing in at 6 pounds, 5 ounces and 20 inches long with a head full of dark hair. His time of birth was recorded as Jan. 16, 2014 at 8:11 a.m., though his parents are sure he arrived earlier than that.
"I definitely learned that I know my body better than a doctor," Laughlin said, frustrated with the advice they received from Sewickley to stay home. Both new parents expressed gratitude toward the personnel who helped at Weirton Medical Center.
"I was very happy with them," she said. "They were very helpful. We'll be using Weirton doctors from now on."
Purks considered the experience a "worst case scenario gone the best way possible." He quoted basketball coach Jim Valvano: "God made so many ordinary people because ordinary people do extraordinary things every day."
"We're very, very lucky," Laughlin noted. "We couldn't do this every day without our family. They got the car deep cleaned, cleaned the house, got everything ready for us to come home. They were all there for us right away."