Emmanuella Iwobho with her parents, Kafayet and Victor, center, and, left to right, Evanston Police Officers Heidi Bernhardt, Mark Buell and Pedro Carrasco.Photo by Heidi Randhava

On August 10, two weeks before her first birthday, Emmanuella Iwobho and her parents were reunited with Evanston police officers who five months earlier provided CPR and emergency assistance in a dramatic rescue that saved her from choking.

“There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about her,” Officer Mark Buell said at an emotional meeting with the family, which was followed by a ceremony marking his retirement from the Evanston Police Department after 26 years of service.

Officer Buell said one of the most intense moments in his career was on March 19 when he and Officers Heidi Bernhardt and Pedro Carrasco responded to what was dispatched as a domestic-related call. Officers Bernhardt and Carrasco found something different when they were met by the panic-stricken mother of an infant who had stopped breathing.

“The dad was holding the baby, who was completely unresponsive,” said Officer Carrasco. Officer Bernhardt said she cleared the baby’s mouth and Officer Carrasco began chest compressions. Recalling the gravity of the situation, she said, “There was no sign of life.”

When Officer Carrasco turned the then 6-month old over and administered back blows in an attempt to clear her airway, she emitted a faint gasp, but did not resume breathing, the officers said.

 “At that point, Officer Buell arrived on the scene,” said Officer Bernhardt. Officers Bernhardt and Carrasco said they were fueled by an adrenaline rush and focused solely on reviving the infant, while Officer Buell assumed responsibility by suggesting they should get the baby to the hospital rather than wait for paramedics who were not yet on the scene.

“I was so focused on helping the baby. It was intense,” said Officer Buell, fighting back tears. Baby and mother were rushed in a squad car to St. Francis Hospital, which was less than a mile away. Officer Buell was behind the wheel, while Officer Carrasco continued his efforts to revive the infant, who had taken only a few shallow breaths.

Officers Carrasco and Bernhardt said emotions continued to run high at St. Francis Hospital, where baby Emmanuella received more than two hours of non-stop emergency medical care before being taken by helicopter in critical condition to Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Evanston Health and Human Services Victims Advocate Kelli Nelson was called to St. Francis to assist Emmanuella’s mother, Kafayet Iwobho, as she waited anxiously for news about her daughter’s condition. Ms. Nelson said she facilitated bringing the baby’s father, Victor Iwobho, to the hospital, and letting him know what had taken place before his arrival.

After a hospital stay and four to five weeks of outpatient care, Emmanuella made a full recovery. Ms. Nelson said she has kept in touch with the Iwobho family to see how they are doing and to make sure that they could reunite with Officer Buell before his retirement. When the moment finally came on Officer Buell’s last day at the Police Department, Emmanuella’s parents publicly thanked the officers.

“They rescued my baby,” said Ms. Iwobho. “Last time we went for a check-up, they couldn’t believe she was like this. I’m still very emotional.”

Mr. Iwobho expressed his gratitude to Officer Buell. “I want to thank him for his help, and wish him the best,” he said.

“We were all touched by what happened. We were deeply affected,” said Ms. Nelson. It seemed that she was speaking for all who applied their individual skill sets in a high performing team effort to save the life of one of our youngest and most vulnerable community members.

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.