Heather Salazar had no idea that her whole life was about to change when, one day in May 2002, a neighbor told her about Alexis Preston, a 23-year-old single mom in their Dayton community who had stage 4 breast cancer and was so sick that she was about to put her 8-month-old daughter in foster care. The neighbor, who'd been a mid-wife for Preston, wanted to find the baby home. "I couldn't stop thinking about them," says Sala-zar, then 31, who was raising three small kids of her own with husband Steve and finishing her college degree. So she persuaded Steve to meet Preston three days later. "She had a bright-pink wig on, and she was so sweet," Salazar says. "Our hearts melted." They made a promise to help her—one that would reshape their family forever. Preston was first diagnosed when she was pregnant; Lexi was born in August that same year, and Preston immediately underwent a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The treatment was debilitating, and she had no family to help her.
Five weeks after their first meeting, with Preston's blessing, the Salazars secured legal custody of Lexi, brought her home and began adoption proceedings. "Alexis was too sick to take care of Lexi, but she was full of hope like, ‘When I get better, I&