A Heart Stopping Event


National Emergency Medical Services Week

Twenty-four years ago this week I was a recovering new mom. My two year-old lay sleeping soundly in his big boy bed, having vacated the crib for his new little sister. My one week-old little girl was also asleep and tucked into her infant seat. I sat nearby writing notes on pretty pink stationary announcing her recent arrival.  It was a rare moment of quiet and serenity in the infant and toddler period of my life.


My baby girl.

Too quiet. Suddenly I realized that my baby girl was no longer breathing and was, in fact, turning blue. I moved quickly to her, unfastened her from the seat, and lifted her up and out but still she did not breathe. Afraid, but calm, I began to assess her situation: I checked her color,  listened closely for breathing, and felt for a pulse… but as the panic began to edge out the calm I took the critical life-saving step of calling 9-1-1.

The voice on the other end was firm and spoke deliberately. She gathered my name, my address, age of the infant… I heard her dispatching the ambulance, all while walking me steadily through the drill- the one I knew, but had trouble recalling at the very moment I needed it most. No breathing, no pulse, no movement. Gentle shakes and taps, lay the baby prone on the floor (hard surface), 30 two-finger compressions, open the airway… and then… a little squeak, a little gasp and a cry. The relief that washed over me is one that I have rarely felt since.

A sudden loud banging on the door roused me from the floor and baby on one arm and 9-1-1 operator still in hand I went to the door expecting the ambulance, though barely 3 minutes had passed. Instead, standing in the doorway was an off-duty EMT in shorts and t-shirt and grass stained shoes with his own toddler under one arm and a 2-way radio in his other hand. My angel, my rescuer, my neighbor- who had heard the call and knew he was closer than the ambulance. I said the first thing that came to my mind…   “Here- let me take your child and you can have mine… mine seems to be broken.”

He waited with me till the ambulance came and helped me call a neighbor for my still sleeping two year-old. The EMTs that quickly arrived were thorough and reassuring as they prepped the Emergency Room at Howard County General Hospital for our arrival.  The rest of the story is blissfully dull. Baby Girl relied on a monitor that alarmed if she failed to breathe or if her heart stopped again. Wires and patches and midnight klaxons were oddly comforting until she outgrew the need for drama at about six months of age.


Still my baby girl.

We are fortunate in Howard County to have phenomenal emergency services in place and last week what we’ve known all along became national news when the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue (HCDFR) received the annual Heart Safe Community Award from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). Our department was selected for many reasons including partnering with Howard County General Hospital to produce a STEMI (ST Elevated Myocardial Infarction) program to minimize heart damage for patients.  But the award winning reason that resonated with me personally was HCDFR’s innovative new community program in Bystander CPR which seeks to train all Howard County residents and employees in Hands-Only CPR. For more information about the award check out this Columbia Patch article.

Bottom line? Every one of us needs to be trained.  No excuses.

Where is that sweet, vulnerable baby girl now? She still breathes. In fact, she breathes fire, tends bar and waits tables in Colorado- and- in her spare time- she is a referee with the Women’s Professional Roller Derby League. She’s still a heart stopper- but of a whole different kind.


CPR Classes In Your Community


Mary Catherine Cochran is a big believer in communications and the critical role that it plays in community building.  (Although she is still adjusting to doing it in 140 characters or less!) When she isn’t busy truncating the message, she works as a Senior Communications Project Manager at Howard County General Hospital: Johns Hopkins Medicine where, among other things, she manages and writes for the Well & Wise blog.