High school graduate surprised by man who saved her life as a baby

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News
Teen's Graduation Present Is Hero Who Rescued Her as Infant (ABC News)

Skyler James, 18, received one heck of a high-school graduation present: she was reunited with the man who rescued her when she was a baby.

"It's so amazing to be able to know the person who saved my life," Skyler told TODAY.com. "Without him I probably wouldn't be here right now."

On November 4, 1995, Charlie Heflin, a volunteer firefighter, heard a report over a police scanner that a newborn had been abandoned under a tree at cemetery in Champagne, Illinois. Rescuers went to the cemetery identified by the anonymous caller and found nothing.

So Heflin did some searching of his own at another cemetery — and found day-old Skyler lying in the snow near a pine tree.

"There she was, wrapped in a little blanket. I picked her up. She was covered in bloody mucus. She had pine needles all over her face and in her mouth. Her umbilical cord was cut off about two or three inches from her body, tied with a shoestring," Heflin recalled to TODAY.com.

He wrapped her in his winter coat and firefighter fleece until the ambulance arrived.

Then Heflin handed the baby over to paramedics and never saw her again.

"It was hard to let her go," he said. "I wanted to know what happened with her. I wanted to go with them, but I was so elated that, at least when she left my hands, she was still alive. I was just praying she would make it."

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Just five days after her rescue, Bonnie and Greg James of Charleston, Illinois, took Skyler in. They adopted her soon after.

Skyler's birth mother was never located.

For years, the Jameses tried to find Heflin to thank him.

"We had his name from the newspaper," said Bonnie. "Social media wasn't what it is today back then."

A few weeks ago, Bonnie and Greg finally tracked down Helfin using Facebook and the local fire department. They promptly invited him to Skyler's high school graduation party.

"There were quite a few tears, both on the phone and the day we met," said Heflin.

"Skyler always knew she was adopted, and always knew there was a story," Bonnie James told ABC News. "I had always hoped of them being able to meet, but I wanted to make sure it was the right time."

"She always wanted to meet him and I thought her graduation would be a good time since she’s getting ready to go off to college," Bonnie added.

Helfin, now 45, surprised Skyler on Sunday. He brought with him framed newspaper clippings about her rescue and the jacket he used to keep her warm.

"I was talking to someone at my party and my parents came up and said, 'We need you for a second,'" Skyler told WFIE. "They took me over to Charlie and he introduced himself to me and told me the whole story again. I was totally shocked. It's something that I've dreamed of since I was a little kid, and it's amazing."

"I was very speechless. I didn't know what to say," Skyler told ABC News. "I could not say 'thank you' enough. I just hugged him and cried."

Heflin's wife, Chrissy, also attended Skyler's graduation.

"It was absolutely amazing to be at Skyler's graduation & meet her. Being able to witness them reunite was absolutely amazing! Words cannot even begin to describe how proud I am of my husband!" she wrote on Facebook.

Skyler will attend Concordia University in Chicago this fall where she plans to major in communications. She hopes to become a pastor one day and share her story.

"It's very important to me to remind myself that even though I had a rough start in life, I have an amazing life and I wouldn't change anything for the world. I'm just so blessed that God has given me this great life," she said.

About 16 months after the James family adopted Skyler, a baby boy was abandoned in Bloomington, Illinois. That baby boy is now Skyler's 17-year-old brother, Nathan.

Heflin told WFIE that Skyler's story inspired Illionois' "Safe Haven Law" that allows new parents to drop off newborns at emergency rooms, fire stations or police stations without repercussions.