Aleteia

Founder of ‘Baby Safe Haven’ believes he’s on a mission from God

Federico Gambarini DPA AFP
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After witnessing tragic baby abandonments, Tim Jaccard says he realized “I had to stop this insanity.”

 Two weeks ago, a church custodian found a newborn baby in a laundry basket at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. The baby boy was left between the exterior and interior doors of a side entrance.

The custodian immediately alerted Cathedral Rector Father John Ubel, who called 911. Father Ubel and the custodian, Nathan Leonhardt, brought the baby to the sacristy where Father Ubel baptized him while they awaited police. Within a half hour, the infant was in an ambulance on his way to being checked out at the hospital.

Leonhardt first thought someone had left a basket of laundry on the landing at the top of the foyer steps. He heard a noise come from the basket, and thought it might be a puppy. As he moved the blanket, he saw the baby’s face; he appeared to be newborn, with his umbilical cord clamped with a binder clip.

“I was speechless,” he said. “I froze for what seemed to be 10 seconds, but it was probably more.” He picked up the baby, called Father Ubel, and said they needed to call 911. The baby was warm, but his hands and feet had a purple tinge.

The baby is now in the care of Ramsey County Child Protective Services.

“The fact that this child was left off at a Catholic church is not an insignificant detail to me,” Father Ubel said. “[…] there would be many willing Catholic couples who would welcome this child into their home.”

“They picked a good spot to drop him off,” said Leonhardt, 26. “It’s a church. We love children.”

Like many states, Minnesota allows babies to be left in safe, public places. Police stations, hospitals and churches are appropriate places under “safe haven” laws, the first of which passed in 1999 in Texas.

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AMT Children of Hope Foundation

Tim Jaccard, a retired New York police ambulance medic, is one of the driving forces behind these laws. Jaccard was motivated to do something after responding to calls of dead infants abandoned in trash cans and alleys in the 1990s.

“To hold a newborn infant in your arms and have to pronounce that child dead is heart-wrenching,” said the 66-year-old father and grandfather from Long Island.

Jaccard’s faith is a critical part of his life. He believes that God sent him a mission to help abandoned newborns.

In 1997, he got a call at work about an unresponsive baby found in a courthouse restroom. Within half an hour the infant was dead. Two weeks later, he was called to a church where he found a baby girl wrapped in a plastic bag, asphyxiated. Two weeks after that, a dog unearthed the body of a child who had been buried in the backyard of an area home. And two weeks after that, he responded to a crime scene at which a baby had been found dead in a bag.

“My gut feeling was that I was being sent on these particular calls to try and see what’s going on and change it. I had to stop this insanity.”

His efforts began with providing funerals for deceased abandoned babies. But of course he wanted to prevent such deaths from happening in the first place. Not only did he help launch a movement in all 50 states to enact “safe haven” laws that give mothers in a crisis situation the option of leaving their newborns at safe locations without fear of prosecution, he also founded the national Baby Safe Haven organization, which acts as a go-between to make such drop-offs as safe as possible.

Mothers can call a national hotline (1-888-510-BABY) and arrange a safe handover to a waiting person at one of the safe places.

Jaccard becomes emotional when he talks of the tragic abandonments he’s seen in his 37 years as a medic. But there are also the beautiful outcomes he documents on a bulletin board jammed with dozens of snapshots of the children saved through Baby Safe Haven.

Last November, a frightened young woman called Jaccard. She was pregnant and had had no prenatal care. She told him she couldn’t take care of her baby girl, who was born three days earlier and weighed about 4 lbs. Jaccard arranged for the baby — whose umbilical cord was still attached — to be dropped off at the Wantagh Fire Department headquarters on Thanksgiving Day.

The minute the finding of the baby was reported in local media, people started calling to ask about adopting the infant. When I spoke to Jaccard some weeks ago, his office had already received more than 800 phone calls from families interested in adopting the baby girl. In addition, a call came in from a lawyer representing an anonymous NYC donor who wished to set up a college trust fund of $50,000 for the baby!!

“What he’s doing is ensuring that mothers are able to move forward with their lives,” said Tracey Johnson, executive director of the National Safe Haven Alliance in Washington, D.C. “And the kids get the gift of life.”

According to the alliance, 3,298 babies have been turned over with the help of Baby Safe Haven nationwide in 17 years, including 167 so far this year.

Larry and Jennifer Mergentheimer, of Levittown, Long Island, are the grateful adoptive parents of a “safe haven” baby. Their 20-month-old daughter, Rebecca, was adopted after being given up in a hospital on Mother’s Day 2015.

They say “Uncle Tim” regularly checks in with the family. “It was like winning the lottery,” said Larry Mergentheimer, a 44-year-old nurse manager who lives in Levittown.

His wife, Jennifer, a 41-year-old radiological technologist, says the precocious toddler who loves Mickey and Minnie Mouse is the best gift they could have possibly received.

“We wanted to have a baby and a family for so many years and it was such a struggle,” she said. “Just to have her in our lives, it’s the greatest thing in the world.”