Nurses are special people. They don't do their jobs for praise or money. They do it to help people. And when a teen boy turned up at the hospital with a shoebox baby, God used dedicated nurse Jeannie Joseph to make all the difference in this little one's life!
Jeannie Joseph had been working as a neonatal nurse at SwedishAmerican hospital in Rockford, Illinois for ten years when she met the shoebox baby. She was in the special care nursery when she noticed a young boy in a hooded sweatshirt holding a shoebox and crying. His terrified face told her something was very wrong.
Inside the shoebox was a 3-pound infant. Wrapped in a dish towel, the tiny newborn wore a doll's onesie. The baby boy had been born 6 weeks premature. Without an ounce of judgment, Jeannie took the baby boy, and medical staff immediately went to work. They treated him for hypothermia, dehydration and an infection from the household scissors used to cut his umbilical cord.
"We were sad, of course, but we had to work very fast with this baby," Jeannie said.
Despite the harrowing conditions, God used Jeannie to help work all things out for good!
Saving The Shoebox Baby
The baby's condition was grave, but it was a miracle he was alive at all. Premature babies need warmth immediately and often are not developed enough to breathe on their own. And yet, despite the terrible circumstances, this little one was breathing and fighting for life.
"This is one of the cases I won't forget," said the doctor who treated the shoebox baby. "There was someone looking down on him."
As hospital staff did everything to save the newborn, his teenaged father waited outside, sobbing uncontrollably.
Jeannie kept him posted on his baby's progress. And once the infant's condition stabilized, she explained to the young, terrified dad that if he gave up his baby that day, he'd no longer be able to receive updates on his health. She reminded him he could take his time in exploring options rather than make an impulsive decision.
So, the boy took the parental bracelets Jeannie offered him so that he and the baby's mother could come back to visit him. The young couple returned the next day, along with every day after for several weeks.
A Secret Pregnancy
As it turns out, the shoebox baby's mother was 15-year-old Cherish Coates. She knew all too well the difficulties of teenage pregnancies. Her own mother had her at 15 and left her to be raised by her grandparents, though she visited regularly.
Growing up, family members often warned Cherish about getting pregnant. They encouraged her to be the first in her family to finish high school and go on to college. Everyone was rooting for her. So when she found herself pregnant by the boy she'd been dating for two years, she was completely distraught. Cherish felt like she'd let everyone down, and was too afraid to share the news with anyone other than the baby's teenage father.
While the young couple tried to figure out what to do, they kept the pregnancy secret. Cherish barely gained any weight, so it wasn't hard to hide her tiny bump. She hid her morning sickness and attended school and work as usual.
But the time flew by quickly, and one day Cherish began experiencing severe stomach cramps at the end of the school day. She locked herself in her bedroom, and quietly whimpered as she delivered her baby all alone. She found a pair of scissors and cut the umbilical cord. Terror mixed with undeniable love for the child she held.
"I remember just looking at how beautiful he was, and how tiny he was," Cherish recalled. She'd never held a baby before. "I remember being scared that I was going to break him."
She called the baby's father, frantic. The two decided he would walk 8 miles to the nearest hospital, and leave the baby boy there, where he would be cared for.
A Tender Heart-To-Heart
It didn't take long for Jeannie to recognize the parents of the shoebox baby were scared, not cruel. A note inside the shoebox, penned by Cherish, read:
"We love you, we are just not able to raise you. We want his name to be Allen Corey and we will hope to be able to see you again. God will be watching over you."
Jeannie first saw the terrified mother the day after baby Allen was stabilized. The girl walked into the nursery, holding her head down in shame. She just wanted to see the little one before relinquishing him under the state's Safe Haven law.
Jeannie's heart immediately went out to her.
"She looked like such a scared little girl," Jeannie recalled. "She came in and sat down at the bedside. And you could tell that she was just sad and embarrassed and scared."
The compassionate nurse put a hand on her shoulder and led Cherish to her baby's incubator.
"You know that you saved his life, right?" she told the girl. "I don't want you to hang your head. You gave him the best chance you could."
That moment of compassion changed everything. The two connected, and God used Jeannie to change baby Allen's story drastically!
Changing Life For The Shoebox Baby
Jeannie's kindness was a calming force in the chaotic situation Cherish faced. She found herself returning to the hospital every day to check on her baby and to have heart-to-heart chats with Jeannie. Even though Jeannie was a complete stranger, she was a shoulder to cry on, never showing an ounce of the condemnation Cherish felt sure she deserved.
"[Jeannie] was not judgmental at all, just very nurturing and motherly," Cherish said. "She encouraged me to tell my grandparents, but she didn't talk to me like I was just some stupid teenager. She talked to me like I was a person."
Cherish wound up opening up to Jeannie about the entire ordeal, explaining how terrified she was to tell her grandparents and mother about her pregnancy.
"As a mom I was just like, 'No, no! This is too big of a secret to keep from your family. You need their support. Whatever decision you decide to make, you need to talk to them,'" Jeannie said.
While Jeannie helped Cherish explore options like adoption, she reminded the girl her grandparents' love for her was unconditional. And finally, Cherish decided to tell her family about her baby boy.
Revealing Her Secret
Cherish decided to start with her mother, reasoning she'd be more understanding since she, too, got pregnant at 15. After a month at the hospital, it was almost time for baby Allen to be discharged. Terrified, Cherish brought her mother to the hospital without any explanation as to why.
Standing in front of Allen's incubator, Cherish froze up and her mother's face paled. Jeannie stepped in and calmly explained how Allen had been born early. She detailed the wonderful care he'd been given and what a fighter he was.
Cherish's mom immediately wanted to hold her tiny grandson. Cherish's grandmother had the same reaction a few hours later. Just as Jeannie had predicted, their love for Cherish was unconditional. They never showed any anger and were heartbroken she'd kept her secret so long.
Cherish may only have been 15, but she loved her son as fiercely as any mother would. She'd explored many options, including open adoption, but knew in her heart she didn't ever want to part from her baby boy.
To her surprise, her family completely supported her decision. They loved little Allen just as much as she did!
It was decided Allen would come home with Cherish to her grandparents' house, where the family would help watch him so she could continue school. As they discharged Allen from the hospital, Jeannie hugged Cherish tightly, making the girl promised she'd stay in school.
A Happy Ending
Jeannie kept her promise and stayed in school. After finishing high school, she moved on to Rock Valley College in Rockford. Inspired by her special angel, Jeannie, she studied and became a certified nursing assistant. Later, she entered law school and hopes to become a mental health attorney.
Little Allen thrived in his loving home. He hit every milestone, and while he had a few delays in speech, they were quickly resolved in special education. By the fourth grade, he was in mainstream classes and already reading at a ninth-grade level. Today, he's a normal, well-adjusted teen.
Sadly, Allen's father is no longer involved in his life. Cherish and Jeannie kept in touch for a while but eventually drifted apart as life rolled along. But Jeannie stopped to think of the young mom and her shoebox baby often.
Reconnecting After Many Years
Then, one day, the nurse who still works for SwedishAmerican's special care nursery, received a message on Facebook. It was from Cherish, now a 29-year-old mother of three who lives in Arizona working as a law clerk.
The two hadn't spoken for many years. But neither had forgotten each other. And Cherish expressed her desire to rekindle their old friendship. And of course, Jeannie was more than delighted to oblige!
"It just makes me think, 'Wow, every interaction you have with anybody is so important,'" Jeannie said. "To be able to be in this position where I'm part of someone's story of their life — that's such an honor."
But it's Cherish who feels honored. That's what prompted her to reach out.
"I just wanted to let her know how much of an impression she made," Cherish said.
The ladies haven't yet had a chance to reunite face-to-face. But now they keep in touch online every day, both valuing the special bond God has given them.
"It feels like such a blessing," Cherish said. "We will always be connected because we share this unique story."
What a difference Jeannie made, all because she chose Christ-like compassion. It just goes to show the power of kindness and love!
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