Only SF natives, mid-1980s SF State grads, and longtime residents will remember the tale of Baby Jane Doe, abandoned in a cardboard box the day of her birth in a laundry room at SF State University, who ultimately became an adopted infant named Jillian Sobol. The Chronicle today brings the heart-warming tale of Sobol, now 31, who after some educational hurdles including learning disabilities, has graduated from the very university where she was born, and found.
It was November 5, 1984 when SF State student Patrick Coughlan noticed something stirring in box of towels on the floor of a room of laundry dryers in Verducci Hall. Inside he found a small infant making no sound, her body taking on a blue tinge, her umbilical cord crudely cut. He went to the only other student doing laundry at the time, 21-year-old nursing student Esther Wannenmacher in the washing machine room next door, and reportedly said, "Did you know there’s a baby in a box in here?" The two called 911, and Wannamacher, now Kaiser San Francisco nurse Esther Raiger, 53, quickly set about doing what she had just been tested on in a newborn care class, making sure the baby's airway was clear, and cuddling her to warm her recognizing the potential for hypothermia.
The infant was whisked to SF General and was quickly given a clean bill of health, but then her story became a Bay Area obsession as potential adopted parents lined up, and as the university tracked down the child's birth parents. They turned out to be two sophomores, and the mother admitted she'd hidden her pregnancy and never informed the father, whom she met at a party. Neither parent ended up graduating.
We learn via the Chron that Sobol, who was adopted by a San Francisco doctor and his gallery-owner wife, Sam and Helene Sobol, wasn't told of the Baby Jane Doe story until she was 16, at which point she and a friend tracked down Raiger, who was by then married with her own children one named Jillian and living in Novato.
Coughlan, we're told, died in 2014, but Raiger attended Sobol's graduation last week and the two have become friends. And Sobol has been in touch with both her birth parents, and has met her biological father, who is a massage therapist living in Hawaii.