Twinsburg dispatcher credited for help saving baby girl
TWINSBURG — For John and Lindsey Paulus, the early morning hours of Aug. 31 were every parent’s nightmare, but a voice over the phone helped them help their daughter in a huge way.
“[The dispatcher] was great,” said John. “As far as I’m concerned and I’m sure my wife would feel the same, she helped to save her life.”
On Friday, 15-month-old Olivia was in the Paulus’ living room, playing with her toys and showing off her recently discovered walking skills. But it was different at around 4:30 a.m. on the last day of August.
“I was very scared,” said John. “I know my wife was. But I just tried to stay focused because in moments like that, you’ve got to try and do the best that you can to save your child.”
“My daughter can’t breathe,” a desperate sounding John Paulus told dispatcher Meghan McGowan at the start of the nearly five-minute 911 call.
McGowan said Friday that in her nearly four years as a Twinsburg dispatcher, she had never had a call quite so harrowing involving a child not breathing.
“We’ve had ones where people think they’re not breathing, but we can hear the baby crying in the background and obviously crying means breathing,” she said. “Nothing this serious.”
McGowan proceeded to ask John questions, Olivia’s age and whether he had any explanation as to why she couldn’t breathe.
“My partner’s getting the medics started over there,” she told John.
On Friday, as he sat with his wife and daughter, John said Olivia had been running a fever for a couple of days, but she did not seem in bad shape and they seemed to be keeping it under control.
“She seemed fine. Her spirits were OK,” he said.
But then they heard a gasping sound over the baby monitor in their bedroom.
“[Lindsey] got up, sprinted over to her room and noticed she had started to go into a seizure,” said John.
Lindsey said, “I walked into her room and saw her convulsing, her eyes rolling in the back of her head and all I can remember is screaming for him to call 911.”
During the call, McGowan asked John if Olivia was breathing at all.
“No, her lips are going blue,” he replied.
Lindsey said they initially tried hitting Olivia’s back and putting cool water on her but it was not working. Then McGowan told John that they needed to do chest compressions.
“If nothing else,” McGowan said Friday, “chest compressions can help save a life and make a huge difference until help arrives.”
This was something John and Lindsey had not thought of, but Lindsey knew how to do it from CPR training she had received as a speech therapist for University Hospitals.
“Keep doing that,” John said to Lindsey at McGowan’s urging during the call. “You’re doing a very good job. Keep doing that.”
McGowan said she is trained in how to instruct others in CPR during an emergency, but in this case, she only had to remind the Paulus’ to do it.
“I’m trained to know CPR, but if it was my own child, I might need reminding just because of the chaos of the situation,” she said.
Lindsey estimates it took less than a minute.
“I started pressing on her chest with my fingers, and I could feel the moment when she started breathing again,” said Lindsey, adding “Then she started crying and that was the best sound.”
John told McGowan that Olivia had started spitting up, and McGowan told him to roll Olivia on her side so she would not choke.
“I’ve never shaken so much in my life,” John told McGowan.
“I understand,” responded McGowan. “You need to take a deep breath, too. OK?”
John then told McGowan that Olivia was making sounds, indicating the worse of the crisis was over.
“Take a deep breath, honey,” he can be heard telling Olivia. “It’s OK, honey. It’s OK, honey. It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s OK, sweetie.”
The call came to an end as police arrived just ahead of EMS.
“You did a really good job,” said McGowan.
“Thank you,” said John.
On Friday, McGowan said that the key in handling such a call is to shut down the impulse to panic.
“You have to immediately block your emotions out or else it can get out of control real quick,” she said. “So you just have to put game face on and say we’re going to do this and we’re going to make this work out.”
‘A group effort’
EMS took Olivia to Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights. Lindsey said she was tested and it was determined that the virus causing the fever was not usually serious and that what caused Olivia to stop breathing was the choking on substances such as saliva that accompanied her seizure, not the seizure itself.
“It was a febrile seizure so it was caused by, like, a sharp jump in her body temperature,” she said. “It’s actually not an uncommon thing to happen in kids.”
McGowan said she cannot take all the credit and gives some to her partner that morning in the dispatch center.
“She was able to get [EMS] on the way, get the officers en route and make sure that was going smoothly while I stayed on the line with the parent,” she said. “So it was definitely a group effort.”
As John and Lindsey Paulus sat with Olivia, they reflected on how McGowan had helped them and they expressed gratitude at the quick response of police and EMS.
“She is a hero,” said Lindsey. “They all are. They were all so fast and responsive. They’re all heroes to me.”
“I think it’s important people understand,” said John, “that in situations like that, when you don’t know what to do, there’s a few things in that moment that make a difference. I believe the dispatcher, the EMS team and the police made that difference and saved our family.”
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.