JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gratitude, a half-century in the making, was expressed in a long-awaited reunion on Friday thanks to the staff at Hope Haven in Jacksonville.
Hope Haven is a multi-purpose medical and education clinic than serves children and families of all abilities. However, it had a hospital up until the 1980s. It was there where a local man finally had the chance to return to meet the surgeon who saved his life decades ago.
As a child at just 16 months old, Randy Highsmith was on the verge of losing his life in 1967 while living in Orange Park with his family.
He awoke from a nap one day and wandered into the kitchen, where his family’s water heater was located. Undetected, it had a gas leak. When the pilot light flicked on their freshly painted walls caught fire, and so did he.
He was rushed to Baptist Hospital where Dr. Howard Webb took charge and transferred him to Hope Haven Hospital to be treated under his care.
With more than 40 percent of his body burned, Highsmith endured multiple surgeries each year for a decade.
On Friday, 52 years later, the two men reunited.
"I tell people you saved my life because you really did," said Highsmith.
His wife says the care he received at Hope Haven shaped him into the man he is today, a caring and loving husband and father.
"It really takes you back, I loved it, not that I loved that they were sick, but I loved being available to take care of them," Webb said.
For decades, Webb prepared for the unexpected at Hope Haven, ready to jump into action to save a life. On Friday, the unexpected came back to him at Hope Haven in the form of two simple words.
"We just want to say thank you, thank you," Highsmith said.
Webb is retired now. He says he wants to spend his retirement "giving back" so he’s working on reading to the blind and dyslexic. He just finished taking classes for vocal narration. He says he might even pursue a career in it.