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After 20 Years, Iranian Woman Meets the Baby She Saved

May 24, 2018
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
6 min read
After Azita Milanian found Matthew, she tried to found out what happened to him, but social services did not cooperate
After Azita Milanian found Matthew, she tried to found out what happened to him, but social services did not cooperate
Azita Milanian and Matthew Whitaker were reunited after 20 years
Azita Milanian and Matthew Whitaker were reunited after 20 years
Azita Milanian discovered Matthew Whitaker in woods around LA when he was a baby
Azita Milanian discovered Matthew Whitaker in woods around LA when he was a baby

A popular radio program has reunited an Iranian-American woman and a baby she saved in the Los Angeles hills — 20 years on from the incredible event. 

On May 17, 1998, Azita Milanian was out jogging when she discovered a baby boy in the woods. The baby, who was partially buried, had been left alone to die. This week, on the same date 20 years on, popular radio program On Air with Ryan Seacrest put the two back in touch. 

Speaking to IranWire, Milanian said when she saw the two tiny, moving baby feet sticking out from the ground all those years ago, it changed her life. Ever since then, she has been trying and hoping against hope to find the baby she saved.

That evening in 1998, Milanian had been invited to a friend’s house for dinner. But she was in the habit of jogging every day in the wooded hills around Los Angeles, so she called the friend and said she would be arriving a little later. By chance, she was wearing a new T-shirt, emblazoned with the words “America! Protect Your Children!” across the front. It was getting dark, so she took her three dogs along with her.

“It is interesting,” says Azita, “but that day whomever I came across wanted me to stay away from the woods. I was going out the door when a colleague called. She was helping with a fashion line website that I was putting together and said that I should go to her house to do a bunch of things for the website. She asked me to go right away. So I had to postpone jogging around the Mount Lowe hills until around eight at night. When I was returning from my friend’s I drove to toward the hillside and ran close to 50 minutes instead of the 15 that I had planned.”

A few years earlier Milanian had launched a non-profit organization that raised money for hungry children around the world. She had always cared about children — but how could have predicted she would find a baby buried alive, and that she would be the one to save him?


Dogs to the Rescue

As she was leaving the hillside to return to her car, she saw that her dogs were not following her as they always did. Instead, they had gathered around a bush, scratching the earth with their paws. “It was strange because the dogs never fell behind,” says Milanian. “But now, no matter how many times I called them, they paid no attention. Tango, one of my dogs, was sniffing the ground frantically. I was pulling at their leashes when suddenly two little black things pushed out through the ground. I was frightened and pulled the dogs to the car and immediately called 911. When I returned, it just hit me what I had seen. They were the feet of a baby, a living being buried under the ground. Horrified, I started digging with my hands and I saw a newborn baby, wrapped in a blue towel. The baby was covered in dirt — its face, its mouth, everywhere. I cleaned its mouth and nose with my fingers. When the baby — who still had his umbilical cord attached — started to cry loudly, I knew he would survive. I only remember I was shouting: ‘I love you. Please don’t die. I am here and I will not let anybody harm you.’”

When Milanian was confident that the baby was out of danger, she put him down and again called the emergency number for the police. The police and other emergency services arrived and she wrapped the baby in a fresh towel. On the way to the hospital, the baby did not let go of the finger of the person who had saved him — despite being very weak.

They got the baby to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. In a TV program aired at the time, Dr. Ricardo Liberman, head of the children’s ward at the hospital, said the baby was suffering from hypothermia. “They said that the baby, who weighed seven pounds and 12 ounces, had lost almost 80 degrees of his body heat. It was like a miracle that he survived,” says Milanian.

The same night, when a TV news team met with Milanian at the hospital, they were surprised by the “America! Protect Your Children!” slogan on her T-shirt. “I told them that I had cared about children since my childhood and that I was active in helping them,” she says.

After that, Milanian met the baby only once and then by chance. A few days after the ordeal, the baby boy was transferred to the care of social services. When Milanian tried to find out about him, social services was unresponsive. “How do we know you were not connected to the baby’s mother?” they told her. Sometime later they confirmed that the baby had been adopted by a family and that she would not be able to meet him. But Milanian did not lose heart, and she continued her work, trying harder to look out for and help children in need.

“Like Meeting My Own Lost Child”

Milanian says that during all those years she wrote letters to every place that she could think of, and whenever she came across news about a lost baby she pursued it. “I knew that that baby was alive,” she says. “An inner feeling told me that he had made it. When I saw him after 20 years it was like I was meeting my own lost child.”

After extensive research, the US radio program On Air with Ryan Seacrest found that 20-year-old Matthew Whitaker was living in Arizona with the couple who had adopted him. Producers invited both Whitaker and Milanian to the studio in Los Angeles.

“For 20 years I have been waiting for this moment. And the day was exactly the same day that I had found the baby. This arrangement was really wonderful. I could not stop crying after they called me from Ryan’s radio program. Now we have found each other and we are staying in touch. We write to each other every day. He says that when he finishes school, he will join me in working for the welfare of children around the world.”

For years Matthew Whittaker believed he was the biological son of the parents that had adopted him, but what was it like when he discovered the truth? After a period of crisis, he agreed to take a genetic test. It was then confirmed that he is in fact the baby that Azita Milanian pulled out of the ground.

“After we found each other, we went for a walk together,” ” says Milanian.“ I took him to the same place that I had found him 20 years ago — where I had found him with those two little feet that suddenly showed up from under the ground. He was silent. I asked him if he was all right. ‘This could have been my grave,’ he answered.’

‘But you were determined to stay alive,’ I said.”

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