"I just knew, I've got to do whatever to get this taken care of because I couldn't see him going with anybody else," Michelle Harris Templeton says of baby Carter

By Joelle Goldstein
December 18, 2020 11:55 AM

A Virginia aunt and uncle have opened their hearts and home to their baby nephew, who was in desperate need of a loving family after his biological parents allegedly abused him to the point of hospitalization.

When Michelle Harris Templeton was just three days old, she was legally adopted by her aunt because her biological mother — who had three other kids at the time — was in no position to raise another child.

Now 31, Templeton finds herself in her aunt's position. She tells PEOPLE that her nephew suffered severe physical trauma at the hands of his mother and father, the latter of whom is Templeton's estranged brother.

"There's no way that I couldn't do this — this is just what I'm meant to do," she says of the 7-month-old boy, whom she and her husband Nathan have lovingly renamed Carter.

"My aunt gave me the absolute best life," adds Templeton, who runs a destination wedding photography and videography company with Nathan, 32. "And I know that by doing this, I'm going to make sure that Carter does, as well."

Michelle Harris Templeton with her husband Nathan, their two daughters and baby Carter
| Credit: Michelle Harris Templeton

Early last month, Templeton says she was notified by her mom — with whom she has since reconnected — that her nephew had been airlifted to UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after he temporarily stopped breathing.

A few days later, Templeton learned that the baby also had multiple fractures in his leg from allegedly "falling off the couch."

"It just escalated from there," says Templeton. "At first I was just like, 'Oh wow. I can't believe that happened to him,' because for a minute, all I knew was the [couch] story his parents were telling everyone."

"I thought, 'That's weird because I have two girls and they've fallen off things, but never fractured a bone,'" she notes. "Then a couple of days later, they're like, 'Actually, he's got multiple fractures,' and I'm like, 'Wait a second.' I just was horrified."

Michelle Harris Templeton with her husband Nathan and baby Carter
| Credit: Michelle Harris Templeton

One of Carter's most challenging points came in the ICU, where he was hooked up to a ventilator and EEG machine monitoring seizures from a brain injury and wearing leg casts. Templeton says doctors learned he couldn't see due to a retinal hemorrhage in his right eye.

"They said the only things that could have caused it were either abuse or a car accident, and the baby was not in a car accident," she says, adding that once she saw a photo of Carter with a handprint on his face, she knew she needed to go to Pittsburgh.

Templeton says she managed to get Carter's birth parents — Andre Sheffey and Savannah Grove, who were both charged in connection to Carter's condition — to grant her physical custody.

Once she made it to the ICU with the paperwork, Templeton "saw this little baby attached to all of these machines, who was perfectly healthy just a little bit ago."

"I lost it," she says. "I just knew, I've got to do whatever to get this taken care of because I couldn't see him going with anybody else."

Michelle Harris Templeton with baby Carter
| Credit: Michelle Harris Templeton

Over the next three weeks, Templeton says she drove hundreds of miles between Virginia and Pittsburgh, spent several nights in the ICU with Carter and went to court three separate times, fighting to keep her nephew out of the foster care system.

"It was the most stressful three weeks of my life because every time I'd go, it would be a different thing in the way," she says. "But luckily I had an incredible judge."

And though Carter is her brother's son, she says, "There was nothing but anger towards them. The worst part about it is I had to sit around and pretend I didn't want to kill them... I had to emotionally balance that and it was extremely draining."

Carter was finally released from the hospital earlier this month and has since gone home with Templeton.

Sheffey, 33, was charged with aggravated assault of a child and endangering the welfare of children while Grove, 34, was charged with endangering the welfare of children and obstruction, according to NBC affiliate WJAC.

They are being held at Clearfield County Prison in Pennsylvania on $100,000 bail and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 21, the outlet reported. PEOPLE was unable to determine whether Sheffey and Grove have retained attorneys who can comment on their behalf.

Michelle Harris Templeton with baby Carter
| Credit: Michelle Harris Templeton

Nathan and Templeton's family — including their 7- and 9-year-old daughters from a previous relationship — welcomed Carter with a photo shoot that was shared to Templeton's Facebook on Dec. 6.

In her post, Templeton promised, "He’s ours now and we vow to love him unconditionally and eternally."

Carter continues to recover from his injuries. He is no longer in a leg cast, but still cannot see, has to take seizure medication and requires a gastrostomy tube in his stomach.

Templeton and her husband — who have a Target registry set up for Carter and a GoFundMe page — hope to wean him off the medication soon and have faith that he will regain his vision later in life.

"There's definitely a chance he will be able to see," she explains. "But we don't know what's going to lie ahead for him... Whatever struggles we may face, we're going to get through them."

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As Carter continues to heal, Templeton says her family is loving every minute with their new addition.

"I got to spend his first Thanksgiving with him and I'll get his first Christmas. It's been incredible," she says. "My girls wanted me to have another child and I was like, 'Absolutely not,' so they're super excited to have a little brother."

"They're singing to him, they're just so happy that he's here," she continues. "He perfectly fits in our little family."

In some ways, Templeton has come full circle with Carter.

"With me being adopted, I feel like you make your family. It doesn't matter what blood is running through, whose DNA and all that," adds Templeton. "I'm just incredibly happy that I was able to piece mine together, and it fits perfectly."