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    Life begins as year ends ...

    11:33 P.M. DEC. 31, 2001: Hillsborough's last baby of the year arrives as a symbol of hope to close a difficult year.

    By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 2, 2002

    [Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
    Michelle Darnall holds her newborn son, Carson, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa on Tuesday. Carson was the last baby born in Hillsborough in 2001.
    TAMPA -- In the final hours of 2001, Jason and Michelle Darnall were in the maternity ward of St. Joseph's Hospital, about to become parents for the second time.

    They had planned a quiet New Year's Eve: the in-laws were watching Alexis, their 2-year-old, and Jason and Michelle were going to have dinner at Outback Steakhouse and then rent a movie. But Michelle's water broke as they walked out of their Lutz home.

    By 9:35 p.m., they had agreed on the important things: the baby's first name (Carson) and what to watch on TV while Michelle was in labor (the Auburn-UNC game).

    What they didn't agree on, however, was whether they would rather give birth to the last baby of 2001 or the first baby of 2002.

    "It would be more interesting having it on the first," said Jason Darnall, 29. "I want it next year."

    Michelle, who looked blissful, having just received an epidural, lay on her side in the hospital bed and shook her head.

    "The tax break would be kind of nice," she said, then smiled. "The tax break is big. Every penny counts at this point."

    For many parents -- those in the 28 percent tax bracket -- a baby born on Dec. 31 provides a $2,900 exemption for the full year, said Louis Ortiz, a St. Petersburg accountant. That translates into a tax savings of $800 or more for 2001 -- even if the baby is born at 11:59 p.m.

    "Obviously, it's a blessed event either way," said Ortiz. "But having it come on the 31st can be considered lucky. It's helpful with the cost of bringing up a family these days."

    The Darnalls weren't the only parents who were expecting at the end of 2001 in Tampa.

    Ariel Hernandez, who sat next to his wife's hospital bed Monday night, was giddy with excitement about the birth of their baby. When he heard that he would also get a tax break if the baby was born before midnight, Hernandez laughed out loud.

    "Ka-ching!" he said.

    Hernandez and his wife, Azael, of Tampa actually didn't much care about the tax savings or having the first baby of the new year.

    "It doesn't really matter to me, as long as it's healthy and everything goes well," said Hernandez, 27.

    Azael, also 27, was supposed to have the baby Sunday. But she started having contractions at home Monday night, and the couple drove to St. Joseph's.

    Azael was in labor for about an hour after Dr. Mark Davis broke her water. She gave birth to 7-pound 2-ounce Amaryllis at 11:05 p.m.

    Earlier in the day, two women had asked Davis to induce their labor, and he wondered aloud whether those parents wanted the tax savings that a Dec. 31 baby brings. In previous years, Davis said, some parents due around New Year's have specifically asked him to deliver the baby before Jan. 1 so that they could reap the financial benefit.

    But Debbie Conn, who has been a nurse for 26 years, said having a baby at the end of the year is much more precious than a tax break. Giving birth at the end of 2001, a year punctuated with so much sadness, has brought hope and comfort to the parents, she has noticed.

    "Even though there's been a lot of death this year, there's still life going on," said Conn. "The parents are happy with what God has blessed them with."

    For the record, Michelle Darnall gave birth to Carson Montgomery, a healthy 8-pound, 6-ounce boy.

    Carson was the last baby born in Hillsborough County in 2001, at 11:33 p.m.

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