Audio of a mother calling 911 after her 11-month-old child is choking
FARMINGTON — Barbie’s looking a bit under-accessorized these days at the Rencher home.
Shoes, bracelets, handbags — you name it, Barbie’s forfeited it in the name of safety.
“We’ve thrown a lot of things away,” said Jennifer Rencher, of Farmington. “Our Barbies don’t have much left for them.”
The purge began in earnest in mid-April, after Andrew and Jennifer Rencher’s youngest child, James, very nearly choked to death when a tiny plastic toy lodged in his windpipe.
It was April 13, an otherwise fairly typical Saturday at the Rencher household. Andrew was over at a relative’s house, helping out; Jennifer was home, cleaning in preparation for a visit from her parents. She was working on the main floor; the four children were in the basement, watching television and playing with toys.
Suddenly, her 10-year-old son, Sam, began yelling. “James is choking! Come here now!”
“I went flying downstairs; Sam had James in his arms and he was bringing him to me,” she said. “James was already pretty distressed, going really pale, his color was not quite right. His eyes were big, panicked.”
She stuck her finger down his throat but couldn’t feel anything. She turned him over, striking him on the back, trying to dislodge whatever it was. She tried performing the Heimlich maneuver. Nothing worked.
“I kept banging on him, saying ‘Please, please,’ ” she said. “While I was holding him he went out, completely limp. I could see I was not going to be able to fix this myself.”
Jennifer told Sam to call 911.
“I said, ‘My little brother’s choking and he’s unconscious,’ ” Sam remembers of the call.
Enter Amanda Glezos, a 911 dispatcher with the Davis County Sheriff’s Office. Glezos, a 10-year veteran at the dispatch center, had Sam take the phone to his mother, and then talked Jennifer through CPR on the then-22-month-old child until paramedics arrived.
Glezos clearly remembers that 911 call.
“This was a significant call for me,” she said. I’ve had some things in my career that stick out, and this one is one of those.”
Part of it is the fact it involved such a young child. Part of it was the recent thank-you letter she received from the Renchers. And a big part of it was the happy ending.
“I figured it wouldn’t have ended so well,” Glezos said, adding that she was impressed with Jennifer Rencher’s reaction to the situation.
“She was able to keep herself calm so that we could both help her son,” Glezos said. “We made a good team.”
The Renchers’ two daughters, 8-year-old Lauren and 5-year-old Claire, didn’t even realize what was happening at first.
“The girls missed most of it; they were in a ‘Disney coma,’ ” Jennifer said. “At least until we were screaming and calling 911.”
Performing CPR and waiting for the paramedics to arrive, Jennifer thought she was witnessing her son’s final moments on Earth.
“He got that blue-gray cast,” she said. “I really thought we had lost him. We were in the room with my father-in-law when he passed away, and it reminded me of that.”
Paramedics arrived and took over. Although they could see the obstruction, they couldn’t remove it.
“So they made the critical decision to push it down into the lungs, which allowed James to get a bit more air,” Jennifer said. Later, the surgeon would tell the Renchers that’s what saved James’ life.
James was airlifted to Primary Children’s Medical Center, where doctors removed the obstruction. But there was another concern.
“At the hospital, the doctor said, ‘The good news is that his heart is fine and his lungs are fine. The bad news is, the baby is posturing,’ ” Jennifer said, referring to a condition where the arms and legs are stiff, the toes pointed downward and the palms of the hand turned outward. “He said that’s consistent with brain damage.”
Doctors worried James had been too long without oxygen.
He told us, ‘There’s been a brain trauma, and we need to see how bad it is,” Jennifer said.
When Andrew and Jennifer were finally escorted into their son’s hospital room, there were “tubes everywhere,” with eight or nine people working on him.“His legs were stiff,” Jennifer said, “and I remember I was trying to bend them.” As if that might undo the damage.
“He had no recognition of us,” she said. “And that’s when you start envisioning a different life. One in which he’d be in a wheelchair, not be able to play baseball, go on a mission, get married.”
Then, at about 7:30 p.m. that night, as the family held vigil in James’ hospital room, something happened.
“James locked eyes with me, and I could tell he recognized me,” Jennifer said. “I asked, ‘Can I hold him?’ ”
By Sunday morning, James had started talking again. By 1 p.m., the Renchers were taking him home.
“So many things had to go just right for him to be OK,” Jennifer said. She and Andrew say they feel like they’ve been a part of a miracle.
“For our family, this experience has been very faith-promoting,” Jennifer said. “We feel like God didn’t forget us. We feel like James has something special to do, and we’re excited to see what that will be.”
So then, what was the culprit in all of this drama? At the hospital, the EMT brought out a specimen jar containing a tiny souvenir for the family — a toy pacifier, about one-third the size of a Cheerio, that was part of a Calico Critters toy set.
Andrew and Jennifer say the curious thing is that James doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson. A couple of weeks after the choking incident, in the nursery at church, James found a small toy dove that had been left there by a previous group, put it in his mouth and started choking before he finally vomited it up in the teacher’s hands.
“She was hysterical,” Jennifer said of the teacher, partly because she knew of James’ recent history with such experiences.Andrew and Jennifer, on the other hand, have learned plenty.
“First off, it’s a good idea that parents are trained in CPR,” Andrew said. “And the other thing is, I just am grateful and thrilled that there are people who will dedicate their lives to helping others, and spend the time and effort to be trained to be so calm when we were panicked.”
And then, of course, there’s that whole “Homeless-look Barbie” thing going on.
“I’ve told a lot of parents to go through their toys” and throw things out, Jennifer said. “It’s just not worth it.”