When the respiratory virus hit New York City, Deirdre Taylor left her husband and two children in Virginia to help save lives.
The 40-year-old nurse knows how fleeting life can be after almost losing her own at age 4 in an apartment fire. Her life was saved by firefighter Eugene Pugliese.
“I always knew I came close to losing my life that day,” Taylor told CNN. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I had a second chance at life, thanks to him.”
Although it happened almost 40 years ago, Pugliese has never left Taylor’s mind. She even brought the newspaper clipping from that day in 1983 with her to the city.
The front-page New York Daily News article, which Taylor recently shared to her Facebook page, shows a black-and-white photo of Taylor as a youngster held by Pugliese. The headline reads: “Fireman braves flames, rescues SoHo 4-yr.-old.”
While working at the hospital on the evening of May 22, a group of firefighters stopped by to thank health-care workers. In a bid of hope, Taylor asked them how she’d get in touch with a long-retired firefighter. They told her to call his station.
“I wasn’t sure if he would still be alive. I worried that maybe I waited too long,” her post reads. “I worried that he may have lost his life on September 11th. If he was alive, I knew he would be in his mid-seventies.”
She’d spent years trying to find him online with no luck. An hour after calling Ladder 20, the telephone rang — it was her hero.
“I spent 40 minutes this morning speaking with my real life (sic) hero. Without his bravery, I would not be here today,” she writes. “He told me the story of my rescue as he remembers it. The cover of the New York Daily News that has our photo front and center, hangs in his home office surrounded by all his beloved Yankees paraphernalia.”
Pugliese recounted the incredible story to the New York Daily News, which published the photo the night it happened all those years ago.
“I didn’t even have gear on. I had a helmet and an axe,” he said. “We took the elevator up and we went to the floor below. We went upstairs. The hallway was pretty well charged. There was a lot of smoke.”
He headed to a fourth-floor loft, where he found Taylor’s mother trapped.
“She was yelling, ‘My baby, my baby,'” he recalled.
Pugliese found her baby, who was at the time unconscious. He gave her some air while his crew carried Taylor’s mother down.
After spending their phone call remembering the day and trading stories, they decided to meet up once it’s safe to do so.
“The last thing I’d want to do is expose him (to the virus),” she told the publication.
The New York City Fire Department shared a side-by-side image of both Taylor and Pugliese, all grown up now, alongside the heartwarming story of her rescue.
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