Two Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies were having a cup of coffee at Goodie's Good Eats in Campbell on Monday morning when a grandmother came running in: "Help me, help me!" she said. "The baby's not breathing!"
Deputies Rick Chaeff and Mike Laddy leaped from their seats, called for emergency crews and rushed outside. Twenty-two-year-old mother Bernice Brown was sitting in the passenger seat cradling her 17-day-old daughter, Isys.
The baby was purple; the mother frantic.
In the next 90 seconds, the drama of how a patrolman would be called on to save such a small and delicate life played out in front of a Bascom Avenue coffee shop, turning an ordinary Monday morning into a reminder of how fragile and fortunate every moment can be.
If anything had happened differently, Brown said later, "I don't think she would have made it."
And to think the day started so serenely. Brown, living in her mother's house, had fed Isys at 4 a.m. and woke up to feed the baby again at 7 a.m.
"I was staring at her, waiting for her to wake up," she said. Instead, Isys stirred and started coughing. She seemed to be choking on her own saliva, Brown said.
So she grabbed a small bulb pump to try to clear away the mucus, she said, but the baby remained distressed.
"My mom walked in and I was in a panic," said Brown, a first-time mother.
"Let's go," said Brown's mother, Maria Aleman. "I should have called 911 but I just wanted to get her to the hospital."
They jumped in the car and raced down the street, past the coffee shop that is just a half block from their house. When she saw the patrol cars in the parking lot, she pulled over and ran inside. She first thought of asking for an escort to the hospital.
Instead, as soon as the two deputies heard "baby" and "not breathing," they ran right past Aleman and out to her car.
Chaeff, a patrol deputy as well as a tactical medical team leader for the county SWAT team, is an expert in CPR and a licensed chiropractor. He had taught numerous CPR classes, but had never performed the lifesaving skills on a baby this young.
With the limp infant in his arms, he knew what he did next had to be textbook.
He checked for a breath. There was none. He tried to rouse her by rubbing her chest and thwacking the bottom of her feet. Not a flinch. He listened for a breath, but heard nothing. So Chaeff started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. With two gentle puffs, he tried to breathe air into the baby's nose and mouth.
"At first the air wouldn't go in," he said. So he repositioned the baby, but still nothing.
Chaeff flipped her over and gently thumped on her back to clear any obstruction from her airway, but found only mucus. After a third failed attempt, the air finally went in the fourth time, Chaeff said. She had a pulse, but was not breathing on her own until he breathed into her a fifth time.
"I gave two more breaths and she started to wiggle around," said Chaeff, who has no children of his own. "She took her little hands and pushed me away. She actually cried, so I was happy."
Laddy, meanwhile, had grabbed Chaeff's first aid kit from the patrol car and reassured the mother and grandmother that everything would be OK. Paramedics arrived quickly, they said, and rushed the baby to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. What caused the ordeal is still uncertain, but doctors are keeping the baby in the hospital for a few days for tests.
Chaeff and Laddy returned to the hospital later Monday to check on mother and baby.
Tears streamed down her face as she thanked the deputy for saving her daughter. Then she gently placed her baby in his arms. Isys squirmed at first, waving her hands in the air.
"She moves now," Chaeff said. "That's much better."
Snuggling close to his chest, she gently fell asleep.
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.