Two Dramas At Death's Door

Michelle Napoli | July 17, 1997

Dispatcher Relays Aid For Choking Baby
It was a mother's worst nightmare.

"My baby is turning blue," a panicking Ann Casey, the mother of 2- 1/2-month-old Christopher, told the person who answered her 911 emergency call Friday afternoon. "Can you please send somebody now?"

The frantic call from a Georgica Woods Road house was greeted with the calm and experience of Mary Ellen McMahon, an East Hampton Village public safety dispatcher.

Ms. McMahon, assisted by a fellow dispatcher, Joan Jacobs, helped Ms. Casey and her 21-year-old babysitter, Kerri Ann Tolan, keep their wits about them and keep Christopher breathing while waiting for police and ambulance personnel. The infant, who has a history of problems with breathing and swallowing, was choking on formula.

Relayed Directions

In a nine-minute-long conversation, Ms. McMahon, who has training as a critical care emergency medgency medical dispatching and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, relayed directions to the mother, which were then relayed to the babysitter. Meanwhile, Ms. Jacobs immediately put out the call for an ambulance and handled other incoming calls.

"They're on their way, ma'am, they're on their way," Ms. McMahon can be heard assuring Ms. Casey during the dramatic 911 call. "I need you to calm down so you can help [Christopher] breathe."

Ms. McMahon instructed them in aided breathing and back blows to open Christopher's airway to keep him alive until police and an E.M.T. arrived.

Back Home

At one point, the faint sound of the baby crying, indicating the airway had been at least partly opened, can be heard on the tape. "Good, that's good," Ms. McMahon responded.

And when the mother conveyed that her son had turned from blue to white, Ms. McMahon assured her, "Okay, that's a lot better than blue."

An E.M.T., Mary Mott, and Town Police Officer John Anderson arrived before the ambulance and brought Christopher to Southampton Hospital in a patrol car.

Calming The Frantic

The good news is that Christopher is okay. After spending the weekend in the hospital, he is back home in East Hampton.

"Keeping them calm is probably the hardest part" of her job, Ms. McMahon said in an interview Tuesday. Equally difficult, however, is not being there and being able to see the situation for oneself.

With 13 years of volunteer service with the Sag Harbor Ambulance Corps behind her, Ms. McMahon's instincts automatically kick in.

"I can't visually see what's going on," Ms. McMahon said. "I depend on the person I'm talking to to draw me a picture." That's not always easy, however, since many callers are agitated and get flustered.

Grateful To All

Ms. Casey expressed gratitude this week to everyone involved in helping her infant son, from her babysitter to the dispatchers to the police and E.M.T. to the emergency room personnel at Southampton Hospital and Dr. Mark Garabedian, a pediatrician there.

"They taught us C.P.R. at the hospital, but you just can't think" when it comes to such a frantic situation, Ms. Casey said. "It was just really, really terrifying. . . . It was like something you see on TV."

The dispatcher "was keeping me calm. . . . It helped me focus," Ms. Casey said, and "helped to save his life."

Ms. Casey also credited the E.M.T. on the scene, Ms. Mott, with recognizing that the situation was too urgent to wait for the ambulance to arrive and the police officer for driving Christopher himself.

"I'm just really, really thankful," Ms. Casey concluded.