Allentown man longs for answers

Abandoned at hospital in 1977, he now seeks biological parents

August 11, 2002|By Ann Wlazelek | Ann Wlazelek,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Michael L. Osman's only link to his roots is a store-bought baby blanket, white with traces of blue and yellow and a white satin border.

He was found wrapped in the blanket 25 years ago, when, as a newborn, he was left inside an entrance to the former Allentown Hospital, now Lehigh Valley Hospital, at 17th and Chew streets.

"The person who put me at the hospital saved my life," said Osman. Perhaps it was his birth mother, he said. Perhaps it was her friend.

Whoever it was, Osman wants to know his true identity, why he was abandoned at the hospital in the wee hours of June 12, 1977, and if he inherited any health risks.

All he can go on are the events of the day he was found.

On that Sunday, part-time hospital clerk Michael E. Nagel left his desk to go outside to smoke a cigar. He opened the first set of double doors leading to 17th Street when something caught his eye.

There on the floor by a pay phone in an otherwise empty entryway was an infant wrapped in a blanket. The infant didn't cry, but his movements told Nagel he was real. It was 3:10 a.m.

Nagel, then 22, didn't pick up the baby or look around for the mother. His first instinct was to get a nurse.

Nurses were already on their way, having been informed just seconds earlier by Allentown Patrolman Donald Layton, who spotted the bundle when he entered the hospital with an ambulance crew.

`John Eric Doe'

Nurses took the infant into the emergency room, where doctors examined him and named him "John Eric Doe." He appeared healthy, except for a few bruises. He was 1 to 1 1/2 weeks old, weighed 7 pounds and measured 20 inches long.

Doctors doubted that the infant was born in a hospital, because he still had evidence of the fatty substance that covers a baby's skin at birth. Also, his umbilical cord was cut closer to his navel than was common in hospitals.

Police questioned Nagel and Layton and searched hospital bathrooms and surrounding blocks. Perhaps the mother or father had put the baby down momentarily to use the bathroom or move the car.

No parent surfaced.

Police checked other area hospitals and doctors for a woman who had recently given birth. Three dark hairs were recovered from the baby blanket, but without a potential mother or father, authorities could not test the hairs for a match.

Betty Ann Diehl, the 38-year-old head nurse in pediatrics at Allentown Hospital, was dumbfounded. Who could have abandoned such a cute baby?

The next day, the city's former afternoon newspaper, The Evening Chronicle, ran a front-page story and two photographs about the "unexpected guest" left on the hospital's doorstep.

Lenny Osman, an auto mechanic in Ironton, read the story with particular interest because he and his wife, Wanda, wanted to adopt. The couple had tried for seven years to have a child of their own.

"Here's a baby that was abandoned," he told his wife. "Oh, we won't have a chance," she replied. "Too many people will want him."

The next day, however, a caseworker for Lehigh County Children & Youth Services called the Osmans to see if they would like custody of John Eric Doe with the intent of adopting him. Interest in the baby was keen, but Wanda and Lenny Osman had proved themselves good parents with foster children, and the caseworker knew they wanted to adopt.

Jumping at chance

The Osmans jumped at the chance to raise a newborn as their own.

They gave him the first name Michael, not realizing it was the name of one of the men who had found him, and the middle name Leonard, after his adoptive father.

As much as the Osmans wanted a family, it was not easy financially. They had lost a home on Allentown's Oak Street to a gas explosion almost a year earlier, in August 1976. And, although the county gave them money to feed and clothe their foster children, they incurred an unexpected expense when, months after bringing Michael home, Wanda became pregnant.

To help make ends meet, Wanda worked part time as a nurse's aide. Still, in half a duplex in Ironton, the Osmans tried to provide a happy home for sons Michael and Jason and the two to four foster children living with them at any one time.

"We did a little of everything," Wanda said. "We took them to parks, picnics. Five children went one year to Disney World."

It wasn't long, though, before Michael stood out among the Osmans. Physically, he outgrew other family members. Behaviorally, he seemed more inquisitive.

By the time he was 2, he had figured out that the kitchen stools were held together by screws.

Finding out

Michael remembers he was 17 when he found out he was adopted. His parents showed him the front-page story about the baby left at Allentown Hospital.

"It came out of the blue, as I was thinking about college," he said. "I cried. It was weird. The person you had been with for 17 years became a stranger, not a blood relative."

The Osmans asked Michael if he wanted to try to find his biological parents, but Michael was content with the way things were.

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