Hakeem Sanders was getting ready for an afternoon nap before work when someone banged on the door of his Fort Mill apartment.
He tried to ignore the knocking but when it didn’t go away Sanders peeked out his front door to find a hysterical woman kneeling on the sidewalk.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” Sanders asked as walked toward her.
Sanders then saw a 2-month-old baby in the pine straw bedding, bleeding from the mouth and nose and, apparently, not breathing.
“I know CPR,” Sanders said confidently. In an instant, he was giving the baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and then chest compressions. By the fifth compression, Adda Claire opened her left eye and then both eyes. She was breathing.
At that moment, Hayley Owino knew her baby was safe. “Angels saved her life,” Owino said.
She would later thank Sanders in private for what he did. Yet, Owino wanted to do more and on Tuesday she thanked Sanders publicly.
Sanders was presented the Piedmont Medical Center’s EMS Hero Award, the fifth time the award has been given in the past 25 years in York County. The award is given to those who show remarkable bravery, strength and courage.
Mother, daughter, Sanders, EMS dispatchers and the crew from the Fort Mill Rescue Squad which responded to the call were reunited at Tuesday’s ceremony. Phone numbers and emails were exchanged. More important, though, were the hugs, the tears, and Adda Claire’s smiles.
‘She didn’t move’
Adda Claire’s story is the perfect emergency medical story, says Robert White, community relations coordinator for Piedmont EMS. “Everything played out perfectly, and most importantly, Sanders did something that most people would not have, that’s what makes him the hero.”
But there were so many things that could have gone wrong.
The Owinos moved from Columbia into the Legacy at Fort Mill apartments just off Pleasant Road near Gold Hill Road on July 14.
Two days later, the Owinos had not even unpacked. With the crib still in storage, Owino put Adda Claire in a Pack ’N Play for an afternoon nap.
When her motherly senses told her Adda Claire had slept too long she checked on her baby shortly after 3 p.m finding her sideways in the corner of the Pack ’N Play, face down.
“I touched her she didn’t move. I yanked her and she didn’t move,” Owino said. Adda Claire was not breathing and was bleeding from the mouth and nose.
The mother grabbed her baby. With one arm around Adda Claire, Owino dialed 911 as she raced from the apartment, frantically banging on doors, screaming for help.
When 911 operator Amber Walker took the call she saw a Columbia cellphone number on her console. Owino was so frantic – and new to the area – that she could not tell 911 where she lived. The 911 operator determined her location from a cell tower.
On a normal day Sanders, 24, would not have been home. He works for Avis at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, but had recently been training a new worker at a remote location.
When he saw Adda Claire in the pine straw, Sanders said he immediately knew what to do. A year ago he, his mother, and a sister, had taken a pediatric CPR class.
They took the class for several reasons. Several years ago, Sanders’ 1-year-old nephew Antonio was crawling on the floor when he started choking.
“His parent didn’t know what to do and he died,” Sanders said.
When his sister, Erica McLean, had preemie twins, Kayula and Kayvon, they decided to learn CPR.
Sanders said he acted on instinct. He first performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the volume of air carefully controlled because of the baby’s small lungs. He then did chest compressions, again careful to make the compressions were not too deep.
After the fifth compression, “there was a gasp,” Sanders said. Adda Claire opened her eyes and Sanders started rubbing her foot. He yelled to Owino, “What’s her name?” and then kept shouting it to the baby, saying, “Adda Claire, Adda Claire, stay with me, stay with me.”
The Fort Mill Rescue Squad had a unit stationed at the Flint Hill Fire Department that afternoon, less than a mile from the Owinos’ apartment. The squad made it there just as Sanders was finishing CPR.
Thomas Burdette, a 20-year EMS veteran, assessed the situation and within seconds baby and mother were in the ambulance with Owino yelling to a neighbor she had never met, asking the neighbor to care for her two other children, Max, 4, and Gordon, 2.
Sanders returned to his apartment. Realizing what had just happened, Sanders gasped over and over again, “Oh my God.” He then, “started texting everybody,” telling them what had happened.
Burdette stabilized Adda Claire and Owino called her husband, Arnold. After six unanswered calls Owino called her dad, saying that her baby may be dying.
Arnold Owino, a newly hired internal auditor at Bank of America, was in a meeting and felt he shouldn’t answer his cellphone. When he saw the call from his father-in-law he knew something was wrong.
After making sure his boys were OK, Arnold went to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte where he and Hayley encountered an all-too-familiar situation – one of their children hooked to monitors, getting fluids by IV, on a ventilator, and surrounded by doctors and nurses.
They had done this before. But not with Adda Claire. The child near death had been Gordon.
‘Miracle Baby No. 2’
When Gordon was a year old he was diagnosed with several heart defects which not only affect his heart, but also his lungs. Normally the defects are diagnosed during pregnancy or at birth. Doctors gave the Owinos little hope for Gordon.
A surgeon at Stanford University Medical Center in California took on their case. He has done the operation hundreds of times, but seldom on a patient as old as Gordon. The open heart surgery took 14 hours – the recovery much longer.
Their experience with Gordon – the IVs, the monitors – gave the Owinos a confidence that things could be OK with Adda Claire too.
“Both situations are awful,” Hayley Owino said. “I almost had two kids die in the intensive care unit in less than a year. But Adda Claire is more traumatic, she came back to life.”
On Tuesday, Max and Gordon did what most young kids do, seeing what trouble they could get into at the lobby of the Sutton Road Pediatrics office where the award ceremony was held. Adda Claire was passed from shoulder to shoulder and didn’t seem to mind the strangers who held what her mother calls “Miracle Baby No. 2.”
After the award, and the accompanying media attention, Hayley Owino, 28, reflected on how the events of July 16 have changed her life.
“I have complete faith and trust in God,” she said.
Sanders, she said, was an “angel that came out of nowhere.”
Owino wants to continue to share her experience, becoming an advocate for learning CPR. First, however, she and her family will have to take the CPR course, something they hope to schedule soon through Piedmont Medical Center.
The boxes in their apartment are still packed. She described herself as obsessive-compulsive before July 16. “I was a neat freak, everything had to be in order,” she said. Unpacking can now wait, she said.
“Now, I wake up thankful for every day, so thankful for every breath of life,” she said. “Every temper tantrum, every wakeless night becomes a blessing.”