Firefighter Marc Hadden had saved dozens of life with the department in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but on Nov. 14, 2011, he found himself delivering a baby for the very first time after a woman called 911 complaining of abdominal pain.
“She struggled from the minute she was put in my hands,” recalls Marc, 48, who just seconds after her birth, administered emergency oxygen to help get the 6-lb. 2-oz. infant breathing on her own. “It was amazing to hear her cry.”
At the time, Hadden never imagined that just 48 hours later he would bringing the baby girl — whom they named Rebecca Grace — home as her father.
‘Winning The Lottery’
Marc and his wife, Beth, who already had two young boys (Will, now 15 and Parker, now 13) had always wanted a third child but because of complications with their first two pregnancies — they were forced to take the long and expensive route of adoption.
So just hours later at the hospital, when the birth mother made it clear she couldn’t care for her daughter, Marc was the first to raise his hand to take her in as his own.
Beth says she remembers getting a phone call from Marc that day where he told her “I delivered a baby.”
Jokingly she replied, “Can we keep her?”
Well, he responded, “I think she might be going up for adoption.”
When Beth heard that the birth mother was a single mom already struggling to raise a teenage son, she felt compelled to go visit her the next day at the hospital.
“My heart just went out to this woman,” says Beth, 39, who works as an instructional coach at the local elementary school. “I brought her a little prayer book and asked I could get anything for her.”
As the two women talked, a doctor walked in to let the mother know that they were ready to move forward with the adoption. It was then that she said to Beth, ‘I can’t give my baby to someone I’ve never met.’
“Suddenly the opportunity was there for me to say that Marc and I had been praying about adoption for years,” she recalls. “And she looked over at me and said, ‘I want you to adopt my baby.’ She had the nurse bring her in and I was able to hold Gracie for the first time. I called Marc and said, ‘I think we just had a baby.'”
By the end of that day, the couple had signed temporary-custody papers, and just 48 hours after her birth, they brought her home.
“She is what we prayed for,” says Beth. “It felt like winning the lottery.”
While Gracie has been a part of the family ever since the day she was brought home six years ago, her parents have always made sure she that remembers where she came from.
“We told her pretty much from day one,” says Marc. “I’ve taken her to the back of the ambulance where she was born, so she knows — no doubt about it.”
She even tells people how “my daddy delivered me in the back of an ambulance [and] helped me take my first breath.
Always wearing bows, tutus and practicing gymnastics, Beth says she’s still a “tough little joker because she has two big brothers who have trained her right.”
Every day Marc and Beth pinch themselves over how lucky they are to have Gracie in their lives.
“I’ve always wanted a daughter, and this is just amazing,” says Marc.
Adds Beth: “Sometimes the best things in life happen in the blink of an eye — and you can’t let them pass you by.”
This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.