Binta Diallo was at the urgent care clinic at the local H Mart in North Carolina because her son needed a physical for football and they couldn’t get an appointment at the doctor’s office. She was in line waiting for her coffee at the in-store café when a woman started screaming, “Call 911!”
Diallo explained to the woman that she didn’t have her phone because her son was using it.
The woman disappeared and then returned a few minutes later with a baby in her arms and said, “My baby’s not breathing!”
Diallo asked her if she was okay and the woman handed her the one-year-old infant, which was gray. There was blood in the baby’s nose and mouth.
A thousand thoughts started racing through Diallo’s head as she held the child.
“I was trying to think very quickly. I didn’t see any bubbles in the blood around the baby’s nose or mouth to tell me if she was breathing. She was just limp,” Diallo later explained. “The mom was still screaming, but I couldn’t even hear her anymore. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience. All I could hear were my thoughts: I need to put this baby down to start CPR. Someone was calling 911. I should go to the front of the store to save time, so EMS doesn’t have to look for me when they come.”
She started to clean the blood from around the baby’s nose and mouth using the blanket. When she got to the front of the store, she found some rice bags, so she rested the baby on top of the bag and started checking for a pulse.
Diallo is an ICU nurse with experience treating adults, not infants. She tried to remember how to check for a pulse on a baby. She put her hand on the baby’s chest and didn’t feel a heartbeat.
“People were around me, but I couldn’t see or hear anybody. All I was thinking was, what can I do for this patient right now?” Diallo recalled.
She started doing CPR with two fingers, but nothing happened. She couldn’t do mouth to mouth because there was too much blood on the baby’s face.
Diallo was wearing a face mask because of COVID-19 but she decided to rip it off so she could blow into the baby’s mouth without making physical contact.
She continued performing CPR for five or ten seconds and then the baby gasped!
“She opened her eyes, but they were rolled up. I was still doing CPR, and maybe 2 seconds after that, I could feel under my hand a very rapid heart rate. I took my hand away and lifted her up,” Diallo recounted.
The paramedics arrived a few minutes later, at which point Diallo handed them the baby and said, “I did CPR. I don’t know how long it lasted.”
“Thank you for what you did. Now we need you to help us with mom,” the EMS person responded.
Diallo attended to the mother, who was still crying. She said people in the store came up to her and asked questions about what happened, but all Diallo could think about was the woman’s privacy. “I don’t know,” she responded.
She then left the store and got back in her car, but she was still shaking and crying.
“I had been so calm in the moment, not thinking about if the baby was going to survive or not. I didn’t know how long she was without oxygen or if she would have some anoxic brain injury or stroke. I’m a mom, too. I would have been just as terrified as that mom. I just hoped there was a chance that she could take her baby home,” Diallo added.
She later reunited with her son and told him everything that happened while he was getting his physical.
Diallo said no amount of hospital training could have prepared her for that fateful day in the grocery store.
“I’ve been an ICU nurse since 2008. I’ve been in very critical moments with patients, life or death situations. I help save people all the time at the hospital. Most of the time, you know what you’re getting. You can prepare. You have everything you need, and everyone knows what to do. You know what the worst will look like. You know the outcome,” she said.
But that’s not what happens when you encounter a medical emergency in the wild. She said she still thinks about the baby and her mother nearly every day. She later found out from a reporter that the family was visiting from out of state and that the baby was discharged from the hospital after two days.
“I just wish I had asked the mom’s name,” Diallo continued. “Because I always think about that baby. I always wonder, what did she become? I hope somebody reads this who might know that little girl. It would be so nice to meet her one day.”