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GWINNETT COUNTY, Georgia - A Mill Creek High School student in Gwinnett County says she owes her life, and her graduation, to a stranger she's met only twice: Once as an infant in Iraq and then again Thursday afternoon.
The year was 1996. Awaz Barwari had found herself on Saddam Hussein's kill list. The U.S. agreed to get her out of Iraq. But as she and her then-baby Lava arrived at the border, Awaz was told she could go, but her baby, whose name wasn't on the list, had to stay behind.
Then, soldier Greg Peppin took baby Lava in his arms and announced she had a new name.
"I said, 'My name is Greg, so if the baby's name is Greg it's got to be a relative and that means she can go,'" Peppin said.
Mom and baby ultimately made it to the Atlanta suburbs where Lava would rise through the Gwinnett County school system.
Peppin went on to become Vice President of Boeing International.
The families never saw each other again, but as Lava planned her graduation, she decided she had to track Peppin down.
“It was the first story I ever heard. She's always told me about the man who saved my life,” Lava told WSB-TV’s Tony Thomas.
“The day I got Lava's email was one of those signature days that kind of make your life worthwhile,” Peppin said.
And a reunion 18 years in the making finally happened Thursday between Peppin and “Baby Lava.”
“I'm happy you tracked me down. I wouldn't miss this for the world,” Peppin told Lava.
At Lava's graduation Thursday night, that man who saved her life planned to be there, too.
"It was worth it… it was! Absolutely," Peppin said.