For over two decades, Jeannie Joseph had worked as a neonatal nurse. Over the years, she’s seen and heard stories of unusual circumstances in which babies were brought into this world. But 14 years ago, she played a major role in a story of her own that has now become huge, and it all started with a shoebox.
Jeannie was working at the Swedish American Hospital in Rockford, Illinois, on April 24, 2004. She was in the special care nursery when she was called from the emergency department and told they were someone to see her. Then, down the hall, she noticed a teary-eyed teen boy wearing a hoodie, and he was holding a shoebox. Jeannie was shocked when she looked inside the box.
Wrapped in a dish towel and a doll’s onesie, was a 3-pound baby inside the shoebox. The hospital staff put the baby in isolation immediately, while the teen just stood there. Three hours later, the staff managed to stabilize the baby, but Jeannie saw that the teen had waited and cried the entire time. So, she walked up to him in order to learn more.
The teen told Jeannie he was the dad and that he and the child’s mother, who was 15, wanted to give the baby up. Jeannie agreed but told him that once he relinquished his parental rights, she wouldn’t be able to give him updates on the baby’s condition. So, she offered him two parental bracelets, and suggested he think about the options before making a decision.
The teen and his girlfriend, Cherish Coates, came to see their child at the hospital. The girl was clearly upset and had her head down. Jeannie placed a hand on Cherish’s shoulder and said, “You know that you saved his life, right? I don’t want you to hang your head. You gave him the best chance you could.” That´s when a bond formed between the girl and the nurse.
Cherish confided in Jeannie, who comforted her without any judgment. She admitted that she hid her pregnancy from her folks because they wanted her to graduate and then go off to college. Her own mom had given birth when she was 15, and Cherish was raised by her grandparents, whom she didn’t want to let down. She also explained the grueling way she gave birth on her own.
Cherish was able to hide her stomach for months until she started getting cramps at school. So, when she got home, she locked herself in her room and dealt with the labor pains alone. She called her boyfriend as soon as the baby was born. The boy climbed a ladder to get to her bedroom. They were terrified, which is why the boy took the baby to the hospital. But he left an explanation before heading out.
The teenagers placed the baby in a shoebox and a Winnie-the-Pooh doll. Then they added a touching note that said: “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.” Then the boy walked nearly eight miles with the box. It was shocking the baby survived the trip.
The baby was born 6 weeks early, and was suffering from hypothermia. Medical specialists also treated the baby for an infection caused by the scissors when the cord was cut. He was dehydrated too. But he was doing something more premature babies rarely do, he was breathing on his own. “There was someone looking down on him,” said the doctor who treated him. But Cherish had issues giving him up.
Jeannie wanted Cherish to know all of the options available to her, like open adoption. But she also wanted her to tell her family. Cherish recalls, “She didn’t talk to me like I was just some stupid teenager. She talked to me like I was a person.” Eventually, the girl decided to tell her mom, who she assumed would be more forgiving since she’d gone through the same thing herself.
Cherish escorted her mom to the incubator and the woman´s faced turned white. Cherish didn’t know what to say to her until Jeannie arrived to save the day. Cherish’s mom wanted to hold the baby, which surprised the teen. A few hours later, her grandmother arrived at the hospital. When she realized she had plenty of love and support, she decided not to give the child away.
Four weeks later, baby Allen left the hospital. But before he departed, Jeannie asked Cherish to promise her that she’d stay in school. It turns out her grandparents were willing to watch the baby while she was in school. But Cherish enrolled in an alternative school with daycare. She explained that, “I did not want to place that burden on them.” Cherish and Jeannie lost touch until 12 years had passed.
Jeannie got a Facebook message from Cherish in 2016. She is 29, and living in Glendale, Arizona. She’s also a mom of three, including Allen, who was currently 5’3 and playing soccer, running cross-country, and is also a part of the Naval Academy Cadets. But Cherish wasn’t the only who had made a really great life for herself.
After High School, Cherish went to Rock Valley College and eventually became a certified nurse assistant. She spent seven years working at an Illinois hospital and in Arizona. Then she applied to law school and was now a law clerk until she graduated. Her hope was to become a mental health attorney, and who do you think inspired that choice? It was Jeannie, of course.
This is what Cherish had to say about Jeannie: “I just wanted to let her know how much of an impression she made. We will always be connected because we share this unique story.” The women remained in touch on social media, but haven’t gotten together. One thing Jeannie will admit is that she acknowledged the impact her empathy had on Cherish, but it’s something any of her colleagues would have done.
Jeannie had this to say about her role: “It just makes me think, ‘Wow, every interaction you have with anybody is so important.’ To be able to be in this position where I’m part of someone’s story of their life — that’s such an honor.” Jeannie continues to work at Swedish American Hospital, and enjoys seeing how big Allen has gotten on Facebook, and is happy she played a part in his life.