Sunday mornings are special.
Sunday mornings, for those who believe, are the Lord’s time. Clear Sunday mornings in April — when the air is brisk, but the sun is strong — are magical.
This last Sunday morning felt magical. It felt like a day full of promise, leisure, and recreation. A beautiful Spring Sunday. After a cold and dreary winter, it felt like Spring. It felt like rebirth.
It was like life was coming back.
Like many Germantown residents with children, my weekends are filled with sporting events. My kids have played just about every sport.
My daughter plays soccer. It is her life. She loves it. As result, it is my life. So it was not unusual to be up bright and early on Sunday morning to be at the Maryland SoccerPlex at 7:30 am for an 8:00 am game.
As we drove down Schaeffer Road to the ‘Plex the Alice Merton song “No Roots” was on the radio. I dig that song. I had a strange thought about its meaning — something about the narrator being a squirrel — and I was planning to post my theory to my private Facebook account, once I stopped driving. Important thoughts like that must be shared on bright beautiful days.
We pulled up to the turf fields at the ‘Plex – Field 19 to be exact. Every parent who has a child who has played soccer knows where Field 19 is located. My daughter got out of the car and ran to be with her teammates as they began warming up for the game.
My wife said that she was going to use the bathroom before the game started and she began to walk the 50-or so- yards up to the restrooms. I said I was going to sit in the car and drink my coffee. I had a few sips of coffee, got out my phone and began to post my thoughts on Alice Merton’s “No Roots.” I was a very normal, very mundane morning.
Suddenly, the phone rang as I was typing. “Get up here now!” it was my wife. “There is someone choking and dying. Come help them!”
I was shocked. I ran out of the car toward the bathrooms. I found a girl laying on the ground with a few people around her. "Are you a doctor?" they yelled at me as I ran. "No, but I will help."
The girl was somewhere between 12- and 15-years old. She was laying there face-up on the blacktop of the parking lot, just outside of a minivan. The door to the minivan was open. It appeared that she was taken from the van and placed on the ground.
Her face was blue. Her eyes were closed. Her arms were blue. She wasn’t breathing.
"She choked on a piece of pancake," her frantic mother yelled. I heard another man on the phone with 9-1-1 giving the dispatcher a play-by-play of what was happening.
"She's not breathing!" said a man hovering over her head. He turned out to be the girl’s father. Another woman began CPR with chest compressions.
The dad blew two breaths into the girl’s mouth, but I could tell from his reaction. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t good. No air was getting through.
“You have to clear the airway,” said another man nearby.
"Is her airway clear? Is the pancake out? We need to get it out," I said. It was the extent of my help.
Her father reached deep into his daughter’s mouth. “I can’t… get it,” he said pained. From my vantage point, right above the girl, looking over the man’s shoulder as he probed her mouth, I could see him move her tongue. He reached deeper into her throat and cleared the partially chewed pancake, bringing up some blood in the process.
"There is no pulse," said an Asian woman as she held the girl's wrist.
The woman doing CPR did about 10 chest compressions. The father blew two breaths into the girl's mouth. The woman did more chest compressions. Dad blew more life into his daughter.
As the woman began more chest compressions, the girl's eyes began to twitch and move. More compressions and more breaths. "I am getting a pulse!" said the Asian woman. The girl began breathing on her own, ever so faintly.
We heard the sirens coming in our direction. The girl began to come around a bit more. She opened her eyes a bit, coughed little, and closed them again. She was slowly coming back to her family.
It was like life was coming back.
I looked up to see the fear on her mother’s grief-stricken face. She was barely able to stand. Legs shaking uncontrollably. “She was in the back of the van… eating pancakes. I didn’t see…” her voice trailed off. She was talking to everyone and no one at all.
I looked down at the girl’s face as she struggled back from the darkness. It seemed as if the sirens were taking forever, but they were coming fast. She wasn’t out of the woods, but she was rallying. She was fighting with the help of her father and the woman who was doing chest compressions. She was fighting back against the darkness.
She was fighting for new life on a sunny Sunday morning in April, as her father and a few strangers helped to show her the way back.
A group of strangers were helping this young girl — this family. On a magical Sunday morning in Germantown, a group of wonderful strangers were helping to perform a miracle.
The girl’s breathing improved a little bit. The sirens got closer. I could see the MCFRS units turning left at the indoor pool. I ran to the entrance of the parking lot to direct the EMS units to the girl's location. The man on the phone with 9-1-1 also flagged them down, one arm waving at the first responders.
When EMS arrived, I heard her father tell the EMT that the girl was a non-verbal special needs child. She rolled over and threw up. She was breathing, becoming alert, and moving. It was unsteady, but she was moving. She had life in her again.
Thank God MCFRS were able to get there as quickly as they did, but more importantly, thank God for the relative strangers with the knowledge and courage to act when they saw somebody in danger. I am not talking about myself, I am talking about the folks who actually had a hand in what first responders and medical professionals call the “Chain of Survival.” The events that must link together to save a life.
The man who called 9-1-1, he began the chain. The first link in the chain is Access to an Emergency Response System. Simply calling 9-1-1 is the most important step.
The woman who began CPR and worked with the father who cleared the airway. That is the second, and most critical, link in the Chain of Survival — Early CPR. Having someone around with the knowledge and ability to perform the functions to maintain access and support to the airway, breathing, and circulation. Thankfully, there were at least two folks nearby on Sunday who could do this.
The third link is Early Defibrillation, which is the delivery of a shock to the heart to convert the heart's rhythm from Ventricular Fibrillation back to a normal heart rhythm. I don’t know if this was necessary, but once the EMS units arrived it would have been done. It is also good to know that the Maryland SoccerPlex has Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, at all the comfort stations in the ‘Plex. There was one 15 steps away if it was needed.
The final link is Early Advanced Care. It relates to the response of highly trained and equipped pre-hospital paramedics who can respond to the patient and provide for the administration of drugs, advanced airway procedures, and other interventions and protocols, prior to the arrival of the patient at the hospital.
“It is going to look worse than it really is,” I heard an EMT tell the shaking mother. He was speaking about those advanced airway procedures and other interventions, as someone got the mom a chair to sit in. Her legs still shaking uncontrollably.
Another woman was talking to her about taking care of the girl’s sibling, the child whose soccer game brought this family to the ‘Plex early on a Sunday morning. “You go with her to the hospital. It is important that you are there,” said the woman to the mother. I heard her say that she would take care of the other child and ask the shaking mother for her cell phone number. She would call or text her after the game.
I don’t know if this woman and the mother knew each other. I don’t know if their children were teammates, or if they were on opposing teams. This woman was doing what she could to help. She was helping a fellow mother.
I guess, I am a terrible reporter because I didn’t get any body’s name. I didn’t take any photos with my phone. I didn’t see anybody else taking photos. I just saw a bunch of relative strangers coming together to perform a minor miracle on a sunny Sunday morning. It was glorious.
I saw a young girl come back to life. Back to her family thanks to the quick and unselfish actions of bystanders.
I don’t know this girl’s name. I don’t know what hospital she was taken too. I pray that she is ok. I have learned from a staff member at the Maryland SoccerPlex that the girl is alive and doing well, although I am sure there will be some recovery period.
Since I started working on Germantown Pulse, I have written far too many stories about the horrible and evil things people do to each other. I was honored to have been witness to the magical moment when life came back in Germantown.
It was like life was coming back.
The majesty of the event which took place at the ‘Plex didn’t hit me until much later Sunday night.
After the incident, I went and watched my daughter play soccer. Her team went up by two goals early, but let their opponents come back and we had to settle of a 2-2 draw. As I watched my little girl play soccer with her team, I could not have cared less about the score of a soccer game. It didn’t matter. We went home, I finally finished my silly post about Alice Merton. I continued my beautiful spring Sunday.
Sunday night, I got tired early in the evening. The enormity of what I had witnessed dawned on me, and the emotions that had been held in check all day by distractions of weekend life suddenly flooded over me. I thought about that girl and her family. I thought about my daughter and my family. I thought about the people who were there to step in to help. I was thankful. Thankful for so much. Thankful for people willing to do something to help.
I would urge every parent, every grandparent, every person to learn CPR. My certification has expired, but I took a CPR class many moons ago. It is not hard or time consuming, and once you learn it, you know it. There is a CPR class every Wednesday at the Germantown Community Center on Kingsview Drive, next to Kingsview Middle School. The class is run by a Red Cross certified company and costs about $75-$80.
Being a part of the Chain of Survival is vital to saving lives. It is so important that as of 2014 students in Maryland are required to learn how to perform CPR along with the basics of first aid before they finish high school.
Maryland law also protects anyone providing assistance at the scene of an emergency from liability, as long as the assistance or aid is provided in a reasonably prudent manner; the assistance or aid is provided without fee or other compensation; and the individual relinquishes care of the victim when someone who is licensed or certified by this State to provide medical care or services becomes available to take responsibility.
Let us as a community; work to make doubly sure that the next time a little girl, or somebody’s grandmother, parent, or friend chokes on a piece of pancake, there are enough wonderful strangers nearby to stage another spectacular come-back.
There was an amazing come-back at the SoccerPlex on Sunday, but it had nothing to do with soccer.
Note: The O’s Zone is a column written on a random basis by Germantown Pulse founder Kevin O’Rourke.