"Tim will go to the end of the earth and back to figure out what is right for the baby and the individual," says Larry Mergentheimer, who adopted his daughter Rebecca thanks to Jacquard. "He's in our hearts and we think about him all the time."
On the day before Mother’s Day in 2015, a call came into a hotline run by the AMT Children of Hope Baby Safe Haven Foundation.
“The woman was going into labor, she wanted to relinquish the baby,” recalls Tim Jaccard, 67, the nonprofit’s founder and president. “She said she just couldn’t handle it.”
Jaccard, of Wantagh, New York, urged the woman to go to a hospital to give birth, where she could remain anonymous, and give her baby up, no questions asked.
This protection was thanks to the Safe Haven Law that Jaccard lobbied for, which shields parents from prosecution if they leave newborns at hospitals, police stations or firehouses.
On that Mother’s Day, the woman arrived at South Nassau Community Hospital in Oceanside, New York, and gave birth to a girl.
By the next day, a private adoption was arranged with Larry and Jennifer Mergentheimer, of Levittown, New York.
“Tim will go to the end of the earth and back to figure out what is right for the baby and the individual,” says Larry Mergentheimer, whose daughter, Rebecca, is now 21 months. “He’s in our hearts and we think about him all the time.”
Over the last 17 years, 3303 newborns across the country who otherwise might have been unsafely abandoned and possibly found dead have found homes, thanks in part to Jaccard’s efforts, according to statistics compiled by the National Safe Haven Alliance.
“He is the impetus for this program,” says Tracey Johnson, executive director of the National Safe Haven Alliance. “Without him, these babies would not have been saved.”
Jaccard, a retired Nassau County Police Department paramedic, is motivated by the memories of responding to four calls within three months in the 1990s to abandoned, dead babies found in toilet bowls or dumpsters.
“I’ve cried over a lot of babies,” says Jaccard, a father and grandfather. “All those calls were a message to me to stop this insanity.”
So Jaccard decided to give each child a proper burial at a Long Island cemetery. He or she is dressed in a tuxedo or gown, receives a tiny white coffin lined with satin, a full church mass and volunteer bagpipers. So far, Jaccard had buried 122 babies there.
But Jaccard wanted to get at the root of the problem, before the babies are abandoned. His lobbying helped spearhead safe haven laws in all 50 states, and he created a national hotline (1-888-510-BABY) for moms to arrange a safe handover.
“Many call us and they can’t cope,” Jaccard says. “They don’t know what to do.”
Jaccard’s AMT Children of Hope Baby Safe Haven Foundation (the AMT stands for Ambulance Medical Technicians) pays for counseling, prenatal care and hospital fees for expectant mothers to help them through the entire relinquishment process. All of the efforts are volunteer, and the foundation is supported by grants, fundraising and private donation.
Jaccard has also delivered about 100 safe haven babies himself.
“It’s a rush of such great satisfaction,” he says.
In addition, the foundation works to publicize safe haven laws.
“He’s a constant support, not only for mothers or babies but for all of us who look up to him,” says Heather Burner, a pediatric emergency room nurse and executive director of Arizona Safe Haven Baby Foundation. “Without him I don’t know if any program would exist.”
The Mergentheimers say “Uncle Tim” continues to check in with them. When they received the call about Rebecca, “it was like winning the lottery,” says Larry, 45, the nurse manager of a medical practice.
Jennifer, a 42-year-old MRI technologist, says the toddler “changed our world for the best.”
“We always wanted a family,” she says, “and having her here, when I see her smile makes everything fantastic.”
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