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For 'leapers,' waiting four years just means a bigger birthday party

Dean Wilson, 64, is a leap year baby who will get to celebrate on his birth date for the 16th time today. His 16-year-old daughter, Casey, has been looking forward to this for years because, for a few weeks, she and her father can be 16 together.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Dean Wilson, 64, is a leap year baby who will get to celebrate on his birth date for the 16th time today. His 16-year-old daughter, Casey, has been looking forward to this for years because, for a few weeks, she and her father can be 16 together.

ST. PETERSBURG — Casey Wilson has been looking forward to today since she can remember. The junior at Northeast High School can now claim an unusual bond with her father — a chance to be 16 together.

Her father, Dean Wilson, was born Feb. 29, 1948 — leap year. Though he has been on the planet 64 years now, the elder Wilson has had only 16 calendar birthdays, including today's.

"I think it's really awesome," said Casey, who turned 16 last April. "I've been looking forward to this for a really long time. You know how everyone says sweet 16?"

Birthdays of "leapers" — people born on Feb. 29 — have been causing consternation and amusement since 46 B.C., when the Gregorian calendar now in use was first adjusted to match the astronomical year.

The chance of being born on a day that occurs only every four years is one in 1,461.

Among those lucky, or unlucky, enough to have a Feb. 29 birthday: rapper/actor Ja Rule (36 today), actor Antonio Sabato Jr. (40), and self-help author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins (52). Departed Leap Day birthday celebrants include entertainer Dinah Shore and musician Tommy Dorsey.

Today also marks an anniversary for the city of St. Petersburg, incorporated on Feb. 29, 1892.

Local leapers say they have mostly enjoyed the unique birthday, including the never-ending jokes.

Nichole Paquette (2/29/72), a human resources worker in Tampa, recalled a 20th birthday party her friends threw for her in college — "a Winnie-the-Pooh theme with adult beverages."

St. Petersburg lawyer Watson Sinden (2/29/52) will celebrate with 15 candles on his birthday cake. "It's fun," Sinden said. "In off years, year in, year out, you try to extend it into a week. And you play on it."

Other leapers have taken Feb. 28 and March 1 — and sometimes both — to celebrate a day that doesn't exist on the calendar three years out of four.

"The calendar, I think, is the hardest part," said Kelly Smith, whose daughter, Ashleigh, was born Feb. 29, 2000. Ashleigh, a sixth-grader at Randall Middle School, doesn't ask on which day of the week her birthday will fall, though her two brothers always do about their birthdays.

"She's never denied a birthday," Smith said. "Or two. Or three."

A leap year birthday can bring headaches. Some drop-down menus on the computer still lack a Feb. 29. Other programs have had glitches — even Facebook.

In off years, according to Paquette, the social networking giant has announced her birthday on Feb. 28.

Paying for auto maintenance with a check has proved time-consuming for Michelle May-Backlund (2/29/64), since the date of birth on her driver's license has caused problems with a check-verifying service.

With that in mind, what if you're expecting a baby about now? Would you be more likely to embrace a Feb. 29 birth because it's fun and unique? Or avoid it because of the potential hassles?

Calls to several Tampa Bay area hospitals indicate many try to steer clear of the unique distinction.

St. Joseph's Women's Hospital in Tampa doesn't have many inductions of labor scheduled for today, "but a lot for March 1," said spokeswoman Jackie Tolley.

"It seems people are avoiding the day," she said.

As for scheduled C-sections, there are three today, just one fewer than the hospital has on an average day.

"Most of the time, when you're talking about a C-section or induction on leap day, there might be slight hesitation" from the patient, said Dr. Catherine Lynch, medical director of inpatient obstetrics and gynecology at Tampa General Hospital. "But when you present the alternative of having it a day or two later, Feb. 29 sounds like a cool day."

That was pretty much the case with Betsy Young, who was scheduled to deliver a girl today at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

Young, 37, said doctors told her last week they had only the 28th and 29th available for C-sections — and the 28th was booked.

Kara Lynn Young was due for delivery at 6 a.m. today. "I think every four years we're going to have a big celebration," the mother said.

Meanwhile, Casey Wilson is planning a surprise for her father's birthday. Father and daughter have already shared an age. For a year starting April 7, 2010, both were technically 15.

This next bubble lasts only about five weeks. April 7 is her 17th birthday, when she will overtake him in years — kind of.

"This is the turning point," Casey said. "When I turn 17, he'll never be able to catch up with me again."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Richard Martin can be reached at rmartin@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3322.

For 'leapers,' waiting four years just means a bigger birthday party 02/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 10:49pm]
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