Firefighter/paramedic rescue article (continued)
It was Kelvin's second day as a newly minted firefighter/paramedic. He finally had achieved his dream of becoming an L.A. County firefighter.
Carl and he had spent the morning participating in a rescue drill at Fire Station 110 in Marina del Rey. Now, it was the real thing. Their rescue vehicle pulled up to a two-story apartment building in Ladera Heights. A frantic female met them at the front door, yelling that the baby was not breathing upstairs.
They rushed across the lobby floor to a second set of doors where a distraught man cried uncontrollably and asked them to save his son.
"My baby isn't breathing … he's turning blue."
Six foot-four inch 225-pound Kelvin and his partner followed the frantic father up a flight of stairs, around a landing and up a second flight of stairs. They trained for this, lugging nearly 60 pounds of gear in two cases plus a large, heavy nylon tote bag – all the right equipment for a wide range of unexpected situations.
The sound of their boots resonated in the empty stairwell.
The father guided them to the open door of the apartment. Stepping inside, they quickly scanned the room. On one couch sat three very young children, wide-eyed, scared, and confused at the scene before them.
A woman pacing back and forth and moaning in fear identified herself as the mother. She watched someone on the rug.
The paramedics followed her gaze. There was a much older woman, the grandmother, sitting on the rug, her legs folded, with a baby face down on her lap. Two of her fingers were inside the baby's mouth. Drool and a pinkish colored liquid trickled down the little one's chin.
"She said she could feel a large object caught deep in the baby's throat. She was holding on to the bottom of it with two fingers, so it did not slip down further. She was amazing. She calmly mentioned that she had recently taken a CPR class. What a great woman," Kelvin recounted.
Kelvin quickly kneeled down and helped the grandmother turn the baby over on his back, so he could examine his airway.
"Whatever you do, don't let go," he told the woman.
Both paramedics quickly assessed the situation. There was little time left to take action. The child was limp.
Kelvin inserted a laryngoscope so he could check the breathing passage, but there was so much fluid he did not have a clear perspective. He tried manipulating Magill forceps around the obstruction. Magill forceps are angled, so as not to obscure the view, with long tong-like blades to remove objects.
"I kept talking to the child, trying to stimulate him to keep him responsive. It was touch and go," Kelvin said.
"The father would stop his pacing, take another look and cry out, 'He's turning blue! Help us, he's turning blue!'," Kelvin remembered.
"I just had to concentrate and block out the wailing from the parents. All that mattered was getting that thing out of that poor child's throat." Kelvin remembered.
The high-pitched stridor sounds coming from the baby's mouth meant the foreign object was blocking most of the baby's upper airway, preventing him from taking in enough air.
Kelvin and his partner shot each other a glance – They had to get the baby to the hospital immediately.
Kelvin choreographed the moves with the grandmother. He instructed her to keep her fingers on the object in the baby's throat, as he gently picked up the child. He carefully carried him down the stairs, as the grandmother walked in synchronous steps with Kelvin.
Stepping outside into the daylight, a concerned crowd of neighbors greeted them.
"The street was empty when we arrived earlier," Kelvin remembered. "Now, there was a commotion of concerned people. But, the ambulance was not in sight. We immediately got ready to transport the baby in our truck. Just then a fire Captain shouted to us, 'The ambulance is here.'"
Kelvin, his partner, and the ambulance team secured the baby on the ambulance's gurney, and were ready to roll out. All this time, the grandmother stoically held on to the obstruction inside the baby's throat. Kelvin leaned over the baby strapped to the gurney and went to work .
"I had to suction a lot of fluids from the baby's mouth, just so I could have a clear view," Kelvin remembered. "I had slowly turned him onto his back side so I would have a better chance of grasping the object in his throat. Four times I almost had the obstruction, but it would slip off of the forceps. It was so frustrating – every minute counted."
The ambulance team took off with lights and siren. Centinela Hospital Emergency Room was alerted that Rescue 58 was on the way in with an infant choking.
Four or five sheriff's vehicles had smoothly set up traffic breaks blocks ahead, so the ambulance could make a straight run to the waiting E.R. team.
"A baby choking call or an officer down call always brings swift action. Afterwards, my partner Carl and I realized we must have set a record for the fastest time in getting to Centinela Hospital," Kelvin remembered.
Siren blaring, the ambulance sped through the city streets. Suddenly, Kelvin felt his forceps finally getting a firm grip on the foreign body. He slowly pulled it out, holding his breath. The grandmother kept her finger beneath it, so it would not slip down further.
Kelvin could not believe the size of the object that was coming out of the little baby's throat. It was a bulbous one-inch wide by nearly one-inch deep piece of solid plastic. Considering the small size of a baby's airway, it was fortunate he had been able to take in any air. It turned out the thick plastic piece was a cover for one of the bolts that anchor a toilet to the floor.
His airway clear, the infant was breathing regularly again and his normal skin color was returning quickly.
Rushing the gurney into the hospital's E.R., the assembled doctors and nurses took a quick look at the now alert baby and gave Kelvin the kind of compliment that made him proud and thankful, "Looks like you did the work for us. Good job. You saved him."
Thinking about the whole experience, Kelvin summed up, "To us, it's another day on the job, trying to keep people safe."
(Kelvin Patterson and Carl Guillimet are going to be honored for their life saving actions with an award for excellence in emergency medical services on May 3rd at 11 am at Los Angeles County fire station 89 in Agoura Hills).