The Breath of Life


From the time we become parents, most of us are all too aware of the risks and dangers the world poses for our children.  We do our best to protect them by buckling up car seats, insisting on bike helmets, holding little hands as we cross the quietest streets, and storing every childproofed medicine bottle out of reach in a latched cabinet.  Our focus is on prevention, as it should be, because accidents are the leading cause of injuries and death among young children.

Most of us don’t like to think about what we would do if our prevention measures failed, or if we found ourselves in the rare situation when unpredictable events requied us to take charge of an emergency.

experience before.  She was cautious, and when the steamy bathroom didn’t clear his cough as soon as usual, she called her pediatrician who said she should take him to the E.R.  When she went out into the chilly night, Michael seemed better, as many croupy children do in the cool and damp change of air.  

Michael, a cheerful three year old, was wide awake and chatty as they drove down from the Berkeley Hills.  Then my friend heard a strange noise,  Looking into her ear view mirror she saw her son begin gasping for air.  She sped down the hill and found, miraculously, a police car close to the UC campus.  Horn blaring and lights flashing, she pulled up alongside the police driver’s side.  As she leaned across the seat to ask for help, she realized that Michael had stopped breathing.

It was at that moment that my friend was able to be more than a terrified mother.  She had been trained in CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, not for her work as a mother but for her other job as a physician.  She was able to do what no class had ever led her to believe she might have to do--she gave the gift of life, once again, to her little boy, as she breathed air into his lungs for him.

As the police car raced them to the hospital she kept breathing for her child until the emergency room doctors and nurses could pull him from her arms and start the next heroic measures. The following week wasn’t good, and Michael stayed in critical condition in the intensive care unit for many days. He took a while to recover, and it took his parents even longer.  His mother knows how lucky Michael was to have her for his mother that night.  She gave him more than love--she gave him his life.

Every community sponsors couses in CPR, some for free.  In Alameda County courses are available through the fire department, county services, and the American Red Cross  There are lots of choices through private groups and you can even arrange for a class in your home or office.  

No one should ever have to go through the horror my friend experienced that night--but no one chould ver have to watch a child die because she didn’t know how to help.


(By the way, when I said “not long ago” I didn’t mean recently.  I wrote another version of this article a while back.  Michael just got married and starts medical school next month!)