Girl saved as baby reunited with her rescuer at high school graduation
Courtesy of: Nick LaGrange, WFIE Evansville, IN
A Gibson County man who saved a newborn baby's life 18 years ago surprised her at her high school graduation.
Little Skyler James was saved by current AMR Rep. Charlie Heflin in 1995.
Skyler recently graduated from Charleston High School in Charleston, Illinois. Following the ceremony, little did she know she was in for an emotional reunion.
The story begins back in November, 1995 on a very cold morning in Champaign, Illinois.
"My birth mother abandoned me," said Skyler. "I was left in a cemetery. That night, there was a call put out to the dispatchers."
An anonymous woman called 911 around 7a.m. that morning and told dispatchers a child had been abandoned under a pine tree at Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Police and fire crews were dispatched there, but couldn't find anything.
That's when local firefighter Charlie Heflin, who happened to be listening to the scanner traffic, decided to help.
On a hunch, Charlie went to a different nearby cemetery to look for the infant.
He didn't find anything and started walking to his truck, but something told him to check again.
"I heard a little whimper when I got close to the tree,' said Charlie. "I dug down inside this real huge pine tree and found her."
Charlie says he scooped up the baby girl who was covered in blood and leaves, umbilical cord still attached, and was clinging to life in the sub-zero temperatures.
"I handed her off to the paramedics and I didn't see her since," said Charlie.
Skyler was adopted five days later by Bonnie and Greg James.
When Skyler turned five, Bonnie started looking for Charlie.
"We had his name from the newspaper," said Bonnie. "Social media wasn't what it is today back then."
Just three weeks prior to Skyler's graduation, Bonnie found Charlie on Facebook. She called the Patoka Fire Station and finally got a hold of him.
"The call was, 'Are you Charlie Heflin? Do you remember rescuing a baby back in 1995,'" said Charlie. "My heart just sank."
Without telling Skyler, Bonnie invited Charlie to the graduation ceremony and party.
"There were quite a few tears, both on the phone and the day we met," said Charlie.
"I was talking to someone at my party and my parents came up and said, 'We need you for a second,'" said Skyler. "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."
Charlie gave Skyler frames containing newspaper clippings of how they first met, and pictures from Skyler's graduation.
He also left her the jacket he was wearing the night he saved her life.
After over a decade of searching no one believes it's a coincidence they found each other, as Skyler begins her adult life.
Charlie says Skyler's story inspired the 'Safe Haven Law' in Illinois that allows new parents to drop-off their newborn at an emergency room, fire, or police station without repercussions.
Skyler plans to attend Concordia University in Chicago and major in communications.