Early in the morning of November 5, 1984, San Francisco State University student Patrick Coughlan was putting his clothes into the dryer. In the university laundry room, a cardboard box caught his attention. In the box was a baby.
She was wrapped in soiled towels, her umbilical cord crudely cut, her skin blue and cold to the touch. She wasn’t crying. Coughlan called for help.
Esther Wannenmacher, a nursing student who—luckily—was currently taking a class in newborn care, was nearby and came running.
“I really don’t believe in luck,” Wannenmacher—now Esther Raiger—told the San Francisco Chronicle. “This would have to be divine intervention.” She cleaned the newborn up as much as she could and kept her warm until a 911 call had been made and the paramedics arrived.
“My biggest thought was, I hope she does OK,” said Raiger. “And, I wonder what her life will be like.”
— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) May 31, 2016
This year, the story came full circle when that baby—the now 31-year-old Jillian Sobol—graduated from the university where she was born with a bachelor’s in hospitality and tourism management.
“I believe it to be a story of hope, joy, optimism, family and San Francisco State University,” Sobol said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.
— Luoluo Hong (@CalStateAVCSAEM) June 1, 2016
Campus police were eventually able to find the baby’s mother, a 19-year-old sophomore who had concealed the pregnancy from everyone, including the bay’s father—another SFSU student—and given birth alone in her dorm room. Since she had left the baby in a place where she could easily be found, she was not charged with child endangerment.
Many came forward wanting to adopt the baby girl, but it was Sam and Helene Sobol who would eventually welcome her into their family. She had been told from a young age that she was adopted, but it was only when she turned 16 that her parents shared with her the circumstances of her birth.
Sobol has since forgiven the biological mother who abandoned her in that laundry room all those years ago.
“That’s a horrible spot to be in for a woman, where the only choice she had was to abandon her child in a box,” Sobol said. “I’ve faced it by not letting it dictate my life. The love and support I’ve been raised with has allowed me to embrace it and not run from it or be scared by it.”