Two UCLA Police officers who were responding to a burglary alarm at University Village Apartments found themselves facing an entirely different predicament: a life-or-death medical emergency.
When officers Daniel Guajardo and Paul Wells showed up recently at the student family housing complex to investigate a possible burglary, a woman ran up to them, frantically screaming, “My baby’s purple and not breathing! Help!”
For an instant, Guajardo recalled, he wondered if the woman was for real. “I’m thinking, are we being pulled into a trap? We’re dealing with a property crime, and now it turns into, ‘Hey, someone needs help.’” But looking at the woman — eyes fearful, voice quivering, body shaking — he was convinced that something really was wrong.
As they followed the panicked woman back to where she had left the 8-month-old baby boy with his grandmother, Guajardo radioed in: “I’ve got a purple baby not breathing. Emergency response requested,” calling for paramedics.
They found the grandmother, standing in a children’s playground and clutching the unconscious baby tightly to her chest. She quickly handed the baby to Guajardo.
As good fortune would have it, both officers are trained in emergency medicine, a specialized skill that not all police officers have. In fact, Wells trains other UCPD officers in first aid and CPR, and Guajardo serves as an emergency medical technician with the California Army National Guard.
Laying the baby across his arm, Guajardo made sure the baby’s head was tilted back to open up his airway. “I could feel he was hot to the touch,” the officer said. “He was pale, with bluish lips. I felt his pulse in the brachial artery in his arm.”
When the mother told the officers the baby had been running a fever and had been shaking shortly before he stopped breathing, Wells said, “I knew from personal experience that the baby possibly had a seizure. I had experienced this with my son who had febrile seizures,” which can be triggered by high fever.
“So I reacted the way I did with my son,” Wells recalled. “I grabbed the baby’s hand and just started rubbing it. Basically, it’s just physical stimulation,” but done with enough pressure to irritate the baby and wake him up. Using the same strategy, Guajardo began rubbing the baby’s sternum with his knuckles.
They rubbed and they waited … and waited.
“It seemed like such a long time,” said Wells, “but, really, it was maybe 30 seconds or so when the baby pulled his hand out of mine and whined. It was great! He took a deep breath and whined.”
All told, the entire incident unfolded in 90 seconds, the officers later estimated. As Wells headed out to clear traffic for an arriving ambulance to take the mom and baby to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the officer lost it, but just for a minute.
“When I got out onto the street,” Wells recalled, “all the dots started connecting, and some of the post-traumatic stress from 20 years ago with my son came back. My eyes started watering. But I just took a deep breath, and I was fine.”
After Guajardo and Wells wrapped up their burglary investigation, Wells stopped at the hospital to check on the baby and mother.
“She was very grateful. She kept saying thank you,” Wells said. “And I told her that I believed this was a thing from God, the simple fact of the burglary alarm being activated and our being there when she needed us.”