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Baby girl abandoned on campus in 1984 graduates from same college

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Jillian Sobol was beaming with joy as she recently graduated from San Francisco State University. Jillian, 31, has a special connection to the school that sets her apart from her peers. This beautiful, bright woman was actually born on campus.

Jillian, who was once referred to as ‘Baby Jane Doe,’ was found in a campus laundry room by former student Patrick Coughlan. On November 5, 1984, Coughlan noticed something moving in a box of towels. He looked inside and to his shock saw a newborn who looked strangely blue. Coughlin motioned a nearby student who was attending the school to study nursing. Then a 21-year-old student,  Esther Wannemacher sprung into action, using the training she’d received at school.  Wannemacher swept her finger through the baby’s mouth to check to make sure her airway was clear. She got someone to call 911 and held the baby close to keep her warm until the paramedics arrived.

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The San Francisco General hospital declared the baby was healthy and, as the SFist reports, she soon became a ‘bay area obsession’ as many adoptive parents offered to raise her. The chosen couple was  San Francisco doctor Sam Sobol and his wife Helene who owned a gallery.

Jillian grew up in a loving home, unaware of the circumstances of her birth. At age 16 she learned the news of her rescue. With the help of a friend, Jillian sought to find the people who helped in her time of need. Patrick Coughlan, the first person to have found Jillian, passed away a few years ago. Esther Wannamacher, now Esther Raiger, is 53 and a Kaiser San Francisco nurse. She is married and has a daughter of her own named Jillian.  Jillian wrote her a letter which said, ‘I know we’ve never met, but you’ve been a very big part of my life and I hope to meet you someday.’ Esther wrote back and later decided to celebrate with Jillian during her graduation ceremony.

Jillian’s biological parents were also found. They were both sophomores who’d met at a party and the mother never told the father she was pregnant. Jillian’s biological father attended her graduation along with her adoptive parents. Jillian has taken steps to connect with her biological mother. They’ve had some communication through social media and Jillian is hopeful for the future.

It was just this year when Jillian told the president at San Francisco State University about her circumstances. She hadn’t chosen the school because she was born there, but rather because she was interested in their hospitality and tourism management program.

Nearing the end of her time at the university, she felt ready to share her story in a personal letter to the President. Jillian told the Washington Post, “It helped close the circle… And it helped me emotionally get out the words to the people that needed to hear it.”

Jillian also said, “It’s been a bumpy road, that’s for sure. Life always has its ups and downs. It was very emotional taking it all in. I felt nothing but love and joy — not only for myself, but, just, the graduation was at AT&T Park, which is the baseball field here. And being in a stadium filled with other fellow graduates and [students who had earned] master’s degrees and PhDs, it was very special and moving.”

Jillian’s story is a beautiful example of the kindness of strangers, the power of adoption, and the strength of a young woman’s will to succeed.

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