COOLIDGE — Jan. 19 began like any normal Saturday for the Hansen family. But by mid-afternoon, a full-fledged nightmare came to life right outside their Coolidge home.
Karen Hansen had just finished slicing apples for the couple’s three other children, shortly after feeding their youngest son, Hyrum.
She then noticed that the 10-month-old had somehow managed to get hold of an apple slice, and seconds later, he began choking.
Within moments, the Hansen household erupted in panic.
After two failed attempts at a modified version of the Heimlich maneuver, the couple called 911 before rushing outside their home and crying out for help.
The haunting scene was captured on the family’s Ring security camera. Both Karen and her husband, Ammon, can be seen sprinting out their front door with an unresponsive Hyrum in tow, their three other children following suit.
Marcos Lopez, the couple’s next-door neighbor, was upstairs in his own home when he heard the commotion.
“I just took off downstairs and said, ‘Hey, come on son, somebody needs help,’ ” he said.
The Hansens were standing just outside on their driveway, on the phone with emergency services and pleading for anyone to help.
“They were freaking out (saying): ‘He’s not breathing, he’s not breathing,’” Lopez said.
As a corrections professional, Lopez had undergone CPR training and was even familiar with how to perform CPR on an infant. However, this was the first time he ever had to actually implement that knowledge to help an infant.
Still, he sprung into action.
He took hold of the child and began doing chest compressions. He even tried to dislodge the apple from the child’s airway but was met with little luck.
While on the phone with emergency services, dispatchers told Lopez to lay the baby down on the ground while administering CPR. At that point, he said the child started to gurgle and gasp for air.
“That was kind of a relief because he was blue, and his lips were a little purplish,” he said. “When he started to do that, I thought ‘something is getting in there.’”
He said he continued to administer CPR until police arrived, all the while just hoping for the best.
“What was going through my head (was) ‘God, come on please, if you’re going to answer one prayer just answer this one,’” Lopez said. “If anybody deserves to keep going it’s that little guy.”
But when Coolidge police arrived, Hyrum’s chances for survival were quickly slipping.
Officer Bradley Fulton said Hyrum appeared gray and almost “lifeless” when he took over administrating CPR. Like Lopez, he also tried to fish the obstruction out but was met with little success.
At that point, Fulton began administrating back blows in an effort to clear the child’s airway until paramedics arrived on scene.
Coolidge Fire Capt. Joe Shaw and firefighter P.J. McCullough — along with American Medical Response personnel David Matson, Michael O’Campo and Garrett Schumacher — got the call.
Having been a paramedic for the last 18 years, O’Campo noted that instances where infants severely choke are typically rare. But the minute the ambulance and Coolidge fire crews arrived at the Heartland Ranch home, he realized that this was one of those moments.
“I’m rounding the side of the ambulance, and I’m like 10 (maybe) 15 feet away and I see this baby that’s purple,” he said.
With first responders unable to retrieve the apple from the baby’s airway, it became clear that Hyrum would have to get to a hospital and fast.
“We had a second ambulance coming in so we would have two paramedics in the back,” Matson said. “But Michael (O’Campo) and Coolidge Fire looked at the situation and said we can’t wait for that second ambulance.”
So instead, McCullough jumped onto the ambulance with the AMR crew to administer CPR while paramedics worked on ventilating the baby.
“We pulled up and we saw (Fulton) doing back blows, he came to the back of the ambulance, we jumped inside, Garrett (Schumacher) put down a backboard (and) I started CPR,” McCullough said.
During the 20-minute drive to Banner Casa Grande Medical Center, paramedics attempted to locate the apple using a scope, but the object had become lodged so far down the child’s windpipe they struggled to find it.
Karen Hansen was riding in the front of the ambulance while crew members worked on her son in the back. For the course of the entire ride, she said she believed the worst had come to pass.
“The whole time they were doing CPR on him in the back and I thought he was dead,” she said. “I was hysterical in the front seat thinking I lost my baby boy.”
By the time both Hyrum and his mother arrived at the hospital, things were slowly starting to look up.
According to O’Campo, Hyrum had become more responsive, moving around and even biting down on the EMT’s scope.
But even after arriving at the emergency room, the Hansens hadn’t heard much about the condition of their child. Karen Hansen said she couldn’t help but think that her son had died.
“No one (had) told me he was even breathing, so I (was) assuming he (was) gone,” she said. “And then they (hospital staff) come and tell me he has a heartbeat after the first five minutes of being at the ER.”
Despite the good news, however, baby Hyrum wasn’t quite in the clear.
When emergency room staff tried to extract the apple, Hyrum coded for a second time and medical crews had to conduct CPR on him for another 20 minutes. Doctors then decided that the best way to remove the obstruction would be to actually push the apple into his lung.
“When a baby codes, the statistics show that for his age group there’s only a 7 percent chance they’re going to live,” Ammon Hansen said. “He coded twice.”
According to Hansen, the situation became so dire that at one point hospital staff informed him that they were preparing to use defibrillators on the child in order to resuscitate him.
“We were just in there just bawling,” he said. “I just felt so helpless.”
Hyrum was then transported to Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, where medical staff were eventually able to remove the apple.
That’s when the most unexpected thing happened. Not only did Hyrum survive, but he made a full recovery.
“Once he got out (of surgery) he said ‘Dada’ right away,” Karen Hansen said. “For the amount of time he didn’t have oxygen it’s really impressive. We were thinking he was going to have brain damage if he even lived. But he’s totally normal.”
Today, Hyrum is an active and happy baby, with ample zest and curiosity. The Hansens lovingly refer to him as their “miracle baby.”
A nine-year veteran of the Coolidge Police Department, Fulton said that this is the only time he has seen such a remarkable recovery.
“We don’t often get the feel-good story,” Fulton said. “Typically when we’re doing CPR on somebody (it’s) very rare that they actually make it or make a full recovery from it.”
Community members are also rallying around the family to help. With medical bills piling up following that day, relatives of the family have started a GoFundMe account, requesting help covering the costs associated with Hyrum’s medical treatment.
And for Schumacher, an alumnus of the Fire Science Program at Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology, this was all just in a day’s work.
“I’ve always known that this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “This is where I wanted to be.”
From Lopez to the first responders that geared into action to the hospital staff that awaited Hyrum’s arrival and got to work right away, Ammon Hansen says he is grateful to every one for saving his son’s life.
“For them to stay cool, be professional and do their job, it’s the reason why he’s alive,” he said.