Born on a day of infamy

For any American who witnessed the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the date will always hold a chilling significance. For Santa Barbara paramedic Daniel Lee, however, that date is also the anniversary of a very happy event — the birth of his son, Connor.

“It was incredible,” said Lee, who was on duty with American Medical Response, or AMR, at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a continent away. Connor wasn’t due until Sept. 21, he said. But Lee’s older son, Christian, was born early, so when his wife, Melissa, called him at work and said she needed to go to the doctor, he knew it was probably time for their baby to be born.

Once at the hospital with Melissa in labor, “my wife was yelling at me saying, ‘ turn off that blankety-blankety TV.’ I just couldn’t do it,” said Lee. “My wife was mad at me for two months after because I couldn’t get my eyes off the TV.”

Also at the hospital that morning was Dr. Daniel Craviotto, an orthopedic surgeon who shares a Sept. 11 birthday with young Connor Lee.

“I did a hip-replacement surgery,” said Craviotto. “Afterward I came out in the waiting room, (at Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital) where it’s normally quiet. It was so unreal. I could hardly even talk to the family (about the surgery) because I was looking out of corner of my eye at the TV.”

“For the previous two hours I was operating while everyone else was up-to-date,” said Craviotto. “Besides being on my birthday, I guess (it was) just an overriding sense of what was happening.”

Dr. Dennis Phelps, a fellow orthopedic surgeon who also was born on Sept. 11, said, “I called Dan and told him, from now on our birthday has the same connotation as Pearl Harbor Day.”

Phelps said he will never forget that day.

“I awoke early in the morning and was checking e-mail,” he recalled. “I got an e-mail from a friend reminiscing about a previous wonderful birthday we spent together in Provence, France. The last comment on the e-mail was ‘Oh, my gosh, a plane just hit the World Trade Center.’

“I thought some idiot who is learning how to fly has somehow managed to hit one of the most important buildings in the world,” he said.

“Then I went to work out … and when I got to the athletic club, folks were gathered around the TV. I got there just as the second plane hit the second tower. The realization of what happened was just mind-boggling,” said Phelps. “It was a totally different connotation for that day. Not only that day, but for years to come. A very powerful, sobering moment. Things were under a cloud.”

“I didn’t even celebrate with my family that year,” said Julie Schmandt, who turned 17 on the day of the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history. “I was going to have a little dinner. During the day I didn’t really do anything except watch it on TV.

“A lot of people forgot about it that year,” said Schmandt, a Santa Barbara native who is now a sophomore at Northern Arizona University.

“I don’t really celebrate on the day anymore because no one really wants to. This year I’ll probably do something over the weekend but not on my actual birthday,” she said. “That’s the one thing, I get a lot of phone calls, because everyone remembers it’s my birthday now.”

“No one will ever forget his birthday,” Lee said of his son’s nativity. “That’s a great day, other than what happened to our country.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on September 11, 2003.

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