The New York City subway may not always come on time, but sometimes it delivers life-changing surprises.
In August 2000, social worker Danny Stewart was heading to meet his boyfriend for dinner when he made a shocking discovery – a baby, wrapped in a sweatshirt, nestled into a corner of the 14th Street subway station exit.
He initially thought it was a doll – until he saw it move.
“I didn’t think it was real and was watching it … and then it moved a leg,” Mr Stewart, then 34, told the New York Post at the time.
Today, Mr Stewart recalls being in a state of disbelief.
“I thought maybe there was someone nearby who knew what was going on – that there was a baby here,” Stewart, 55, told the Post.
“I scanned, looking, but didn’t see anyone. There was a baby on the ground and no one was around. How could this be?”
Afraid to move the baby, he raced to a nearby payphone to call 911 – then rang his boyfriend, Peter Mercurio, who headed to the scene from his nearby apartment.
“I ran down the stairs and made sure it was breathing and then called 911,” he said at the time. “It was unreal.”
Mr Mercurio arrived as the police were taking away the baby boy – his umbilical cord still partially intact. He was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in a stable condition.
“You know, you’re going to be connected to that baby in some way for the rest of your life,” Mr Mercurio, a web designer, said.
“This child is going to learn of the night he was found and he may want to find the person who discovered him. Maybe there’s a way that we can find out where he ends up and send a birthday gift every year on this date.”
At first, it didn’t seem like that would happen. Mr Stewart had been unable to find the baby on a visit to St Vincent’s and so the couple resumed their regular lives.
Then, in December, Mr Stewart was asked to testify at a family court hearing regarding the baby.
After his testimony, the judge asked him a question that would change the course of his life.
“Would you be interested in adopting this baby?” she asked.
“When the judge asked me if I was interested in adopting, what I blurted out was an instinctual yes,” Mr Stewart said.
“But I was once again in disbelief that she was asking the question. That is not what was supposed to happen.”
Before discovering the baby on the train, he and his boyfriend had never really talked about starting a family.
“In our three-and-a-half years together, we had had one extremely brief conversation about kids,” Mr Mercurio, 52, said.
“We didn’t have any money, we lived in a really small space with a roommate. We would never have become parents (on our own).”
Mr Mercurio was initially opposed to the idea, but Mr Stewart felt fate’s hands at work and managed to convince him otherwise.
“I felt like this was not even an opportunity, it was a gift, and how can you say no to this gift,” Mr Stewart told the BBC.
During a visit to the baby’s foster home, Mr Mercurio held the child for the first time.
It was in that instant he knew for certain “that I wanted to become his parent,” he said.
The couple anticipated having months to prepare, but at a December 20 court hearing, the judge asked if they’d like to spend Christmas with the boy.
And so, two days later, on a snowy New York City morning, the pair went to pick up the child who they named Kevin.
The little baby was covered in a blistering rash and remained scrunched in a foetal position.
“It just broke our hearts,” Mr Mercurio said.
“He shook like a nervous chihuahua and didn’t cry at all.
“We just slathered him with constant affection and treated the rash, and by Christmas Day he was already healing.”
Kevin’s mother was never found.
Occasionally, while growing up he would point out to a woman who looked like him and wonder if it was his mother.
But “he always owned his story,” Mr Mercurio said.
“Whether in his quiet moments he reflects on it happily or mournfully we don’t know. I don’t think he’s wishing he’s having another life.”
Today, Kevin is 20, in college, studying mathematics and computer science.
Mr Mercurio describes him as “reserved” and “kind of private”.
Photos of the family’s numerous national park holidays show a smiling man who now stands over 183cm tall.
In September, Mr Mercurio published a children’s book, Our Subway Baby, written about Kevin’s story.
“Where there’s love anything is possible,” reads the back cover.
While dropping Kevin off at college, his dads gifted it to him.
“About a week later he texted us and said, ‘I’m so proud of this book,’” Mr Mercurio said.
While Kevin “doesn’t go around telling people his story,” he now keeps the book on the corner of the desk in his dorm.
“When dorm mates come to talk to him, they see it – that’s his way of telling his story without verbalising it,” Mr Mercurio said.
Mr Mercurio and Mr Stewart have since moved from Harlem to Chelsea, not far from what they now refer to as “Kevin’s Corner” – which still holds an emotional place in their hearts.
“When I walk through that subway station, waves of emotion come over me,” Mr Mercurio said.
And the pair are still in touch with the judge who oversaw their adoption of Kevin. In fact, in 2011, when New York legalised gay marriage, she was the one who officiated their wedding.
She attended Kevin’s high school graduation party, and Mr Mercurio sent her a copy of Our Subway Baby when it was published. They exchange holiday cards every December.
Even now that Kevin is grown, they can’t believe the kismet of finding him all alone.
“You always hear anything can happen in New York, and this solidified it for me,” Mr Mercurio said.
“The idea of looking to the future and thinking where your life is going to be at some point, I don’t do that anymore, because anything is possible.”
This story was first published on New York Post and is reproduced with permission