Sign up for our free weekday bulletin.

Dad who saved choking baby earns life-saving certificate

Published on

Cathy Dobson

Little Sullivan Sloan was only a few weeks old when his father saved his life.

Sullivan will have no memory of it, but his father’s heroics are confirmed in a certificate of recognition Jamie Sloan received from St. John Ambulance.

And Sloan didn’t save his premature baby once. He did it twice in two days.

“I want people to know it’s OK to jump into action and do what your instinct tells you when there’s a crisis,” he said.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you. It was the most horrible feeling.”

Wife Tracy gave birth to Sullivan five weeks early at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

“He was born a happy baby boy weighing five pounds, nine ounces,” said his dad.  “Everything was fine when we left the hospital.”

His parents already had Spencer, 14, and Sebastian, 9, so they felt confident about handling the baby. But on May 21, when Sullivan was two weeks old, he stopped breathing as he rested in bed between his parents.

“He had formula streaming from his nostrils,” Sloan said. “Tracy’s panic got louder and louder.”

He called 911 and ran to wake the older boys so they wouldn’t be frightened by arriving first responders.

“I ran back to the bedroom and scooped Sullivan from Tracy.  I guess the dad instinct kicked in because at this point, he’s turning blue.”

Sloan checked Sullivan’s mouth for blockage and flipped him on his belly. Holding him one on arm, he began hitting the baby’s back with force.

“Just as Sarnia Police arrived he started breathing,” he said. “I fell apart.”

When the ambulance arrived the baby’s vitals were good. Later at the hospital he briefly stopped breathing again, but managed to restart on his own. After a night at Bluewater Health, the family took their baby home.

A day later the scenario repeated itself.

“It was the same thing with the blows to his back. I must have hit him 20 or 30 times,” said Sloan, choking up at the memory.

“My wife’s face looked so desperate”

Over the next three weeks the Sloans rushed to hospital repeatedly when Sullivan had trouble breathing. Tracy and Jamie became adept at hitting his back to resume respiration, and estimate they visited the ER eight times.

A doctor suggested acid reflux was responsible, but was reluctant to prescribe medication for the tiny baby. When the Sloans returned to the ER again the next night a prescription was finally offered.

Sullivan’s lungs were underdeveloped and he sometimes forgot to breathe. When he eventually took a breath, stomach acid would choke him.

The medication worked. The baby began gaining weight. The last time he stopped breathing was in July.

Long after Sullivan’s birth, the Sloans learned that choking and acid reflux is not uncommon with premature babies.

“A lot of parents have it so much worse than we did. But we still are amazed that a world class hospital didn’t tell us anything about preemies,” Sloan said.

The couple praised Bluewater Health, Sarnia Police and local paramedics, however.

“They are the whole package,” Jamie Sloan said. “They know how to calm you down and they made me feel like a million bucks.”

Tracy Sloan learned through a family member about the St. John Ambulance awards, for people who save lives using first aid. She applied and recently presented the certificate to her husband, with all their children present.

“Jamie deserved it,” she said. “When Sullivan was choking, it happened so fast and I remember thinking, why are you doing back blows when the baby is so small?

“But it was the right thing to do.”

Since then, Jamie Sloan and his eldest son have taken the St. John Ambulance CPR course and are now both certified.

“I urge everyone to make every attempt to get CPR training,” he said.

More like this