Heroes among us: Zoo workers save baby’s life

Just after noon, Thursday, June 23,  Raymond Slifka and Jeffrey Perry were approached by a concerned visitor and asked to call 911—a young child was having difficulty breathing.  Ray, a pipefitter,  and Jeff, a maintenance mechanic with Office of Facilities Management and Reliability, were just finishing up a plumbing project at the Elephant Outpost Mechanical Room and were elbow-deep in grime, but they rushed immediately to the scene to assist.

On the path between Olmsted and the Elephant Outpost, they found four women in a growing state of panic over a little boy about two years old. The child was ashen, and beginning to turn blue as he struggled to breathe through a tracheotomy tube assisted by a portable ventilator.  One of the women, the child’s nurse, was checking all the equipment, cycling it on  and off to verify proper operation but with no improvement in the baby’s condition.

Ray, an Emergency Medical Technician licensed in Maryland and Virginia, immediately recognized that the child was in respiratory distress and realized that his airway was blocked with mucous. He directed the nurse to clear the baby’s airway but the message did not immediately convey because none of the women spoke much English. One struggled to interpret the message for the child’s mother and the nurse, who were verging on panic.

Ray remained calm and repeated his instructions,  “Clear the airway.  Remove the breathing tube and clear the airway.  Suction the airway.” Ray could not safely do the procedure himself because he was still covered in grime from the plumbing project, but he continued his calm guidance through the cloud of confusion and spiraling panic until the adults attending the child finally grasped the need to perform the procedure.  As soon as the women removed the breathing tube, the boy began to gurgle and cry—a good sign. They inserted a suction tube and drew out the mucous that had been blocking his airway. The baby’s breathing was restored and color promptly returned to his skin.

Meanwhile,  Jeff contacted NZP Police and then cleared the area so District of Columbia Fire Department first responders could reach the scene easily as he flagged them in to attend to the child.

From left, Ray Slifka and Jeffrey Perry. (Photo by Mehgan Murphy)

From left, Raymond Slifka and Jeffrey Perry. (Photo by Mehgan Murphy)

Ray and Jeff responded to what could have been a tragic emergency with calm professionalism.  Please join your colleagues in commending them in the comments: Well done!

Posted: 30 June 2011
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11 Responses to Heroes among us: Zoo workers save baby’s life
    • sharon slifka
    • Wonderful story and a proud one as Ray is my husband and we have a small child at home. Good job both of you!

    • Olga Alvarado
    • Thank goodness for folks like you two. Thanks for keeping cool in a stressful and emotional situation. I echo Meredith’s thoughts above.

    • Emily Sloat Shaw
    • Great job Ray and Jeff! Your heroic actions saved the day for this little boy and his family.

    • Daniel Davies
    • The Zoo is a wild place. Working at the Zoo can be challenging. These two, Ray and Jeff, thrive on that challenge. They represent the best the Smithsonian has to offer.

    • Meredith McQuoid
    • Wow. As a mother, this story leaves me breathless myself–Ray and Jeff are true heroes!

    • Leonda Levchuk
    • What a great story. It’s good to know that colleagues are ready to help the public in a scary situation for any parent.