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She'd long wondered about the infant she'd pulled from a wrecked car 25 years earlier. Now, she had a chance to have her questions answered.
Life is made up of moments that lodge in our minds like scenes from a movie. Strung together, they tell a story of where we’ve come from, who we are, what we want to be.
It’s no fluke that when we play back the video of our lives, the scenes we remember most vividly are those when our story overlaps with another’s–however briefly. These shared scenes change each of us in powerful ways. For better or worse.
Such a convergence occurred one day in March 1988. A scene Shelley Cumley wanted to forget. The 25-year-old from Seattle was driving south to Lake Tahoe for a week of skiing with her friends.
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She rolled down her car window and stuck her hand out to catch the breeze. Nothing but green hills stretched out on either side of Interstate 5, California’s Cascade Wonderland Highway.
She looked in her side-view mirror. A red sports car was coming up fast. Too fast. It swerved over the double yellow lines and zoomed ahead, barely missing Shelley. She glimpsed the driver’s face. Wild eyes. He seemed intoxicated. He vanished around the next curve.
Farther down Interstate 5, travel-ing north, Roanna Farley glanced in the rearview at her seven-month-old baby, Nicole, fast asleep in the back. Was the car seat secure? Nicole was her first child; Roanna could never be cautious enough.
She turned her attention back to the road–just in time to see a flash of red cross into her lane.
The instant Shelley rounded the curve, she saw a trail of debris on the road. Broken glass and twisted steel littering the asphalt. A head-on collision, between the drunk driver and another vehicle. Shelley pulled over, jumped out of her car and ran toward the smoldering wreckage.
Roanna opened her eyes. The smell of gasoline and burning rubber hung in the air. She couldn’t move, but that wasn’t her concern. “My baby,” she cried weakly. “Where’s my baby?”
Shelley approached the crumpled sedan. She peered inside. A woman was trapped between the front seat and the dash, fading into unconsciousness. In the back, a tiny redheaded baby in a car seat, crying.
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I have to get her out, Shelley thought. The leaking gas, the smoke. This car could blow up at any minute. Shelley wasn’t a mother, but a maternal instinct took over. The child’s safety came above all else. She opened the door and lifted the baby out of the car seat.
Roanna looked up in a daze. Nicole...A stranger was holding her–it was the last thing she saw before she lost consciousness completely.
Shelley rode in the ambulance with the baby all the way to the hospital. She learned the girl’s name in the emergency room: Nicole Farley. A triage doctor gave the baby an initial examination and told Shelley that Nicole was not in immediate danger. The mom was critical.
Shelley stayed at the hospital, praying for the woman’s life until Nicole’s father arrived.
Roanna opened her eyes in a hospital bed. She vaguely recalled riding in a helicopter. A kind EMT. White lights. Doctors and nurses crowding around her. After a week in intensive care, she was finally lucid.
Her foot had been impaled by the car’s seat adjuster, her left eye and nasal cavity were caved in, her pelvis broken. But she didn’t care about her own injuries. “Where is Nicole?” she asked. “Is my baby okay?” All she remembered was a stranger holding her.
In Lake Tahoe, Shelley sat in a ski lift and stared at the mountains in the distance. She kept thinking about the accident. Was Nicole’s mother going to be okay? Driving back home to Seattle at the end of the week, she made a detour. She stopped at the hospital to check in on the Farleys.