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A neighbor tries to save a very special little girl

By Tom Yamaguchi
Thursday May 03, 2001

It was a mother's worst nightmare. She went to wake her daughter to get up for school, but the child would not wake up. She was unconscious and unresponsive to her mother's panicked reaction. I happened to hear the cry of my West Berkeley neighbor and went out that morning to find out what the matter was. “My baby!” she cried. “Does anyone know CPR!” came the cry from a family immobilized by grief. 

Hearing the call, I rushed to the bedroom of the 9-year-old girl. I had taken a CPR class a decade ago and was certain I had forgotten everything I had learned. Still, I knew I had to do something. The girl was not moving or breathing. I turned her on her back and checked to see if she was choking on something. I couldn't find anything so I started blowing air into her lungs. Then I pushed my palms against her chest several times. I returned to blowing air into her lungs. 

Within minutes, a Berkeley police officer was in the room. We moved her off the mattress and onto the floor. He instructed me to continue blowing into her mouth. I did that until the paramedics arrived. 

The little girl was rushed to Children's Hospital where she died. The police told me that no one could have saved her. I had done the best I could.  

The suspected cause was meningitis. She had shown all the symptoms. Because I had been exposed to her saliva, I was at risk. I was told to go to the hospital to get treated. One of my housemates accidentally drank from my coffee cup that morning. We decided that we should both go for treatment. We were not taking any chances. 

At the hospital, we were informed that the risk of either of us getting meningitis was small. Of the two of us, I was at the greater risk. My mouth came into contact with the girl's saliva. We were reassured that we were only being treated as a precaution. The other members of our household did not need treatment. 

Nandi was a sweet, lovely girl. A couple of weeks ago, she and her sister came to my door, asking me to buy a raffle ticket to raise funds for Oxford school. Nandi attended Oxford. I bought one ticket from each of them. 

She was always kind and friendly to everyone in the neighborhood. And that is how I prefer to remember her; the energetic and always optimistic child, riding her bike down my sidewalk or running to my back yard for the ball that went over the back fence. During the hot, summer months, she had played with my daughter and cooled down over the lawn sprinkler in that same backyard. It was in that back yard that I heard the mother’s cry for help.  

Another one of my housemates is a school bus driver. She drove the Nandi to Oxford everyday. She had just returned from a field trip to Sacramento when she heard the news. She was devastated. 

Even though my attempt to save Nandi’s life was in vain, I would do it again without hesitation. It is better to take the risk and try than it is to do nothing and wonder later if that risk might have made a difference. If it had been a member of my family, I would want someone to take that risk to save a life. I hope that will never happen to anyone else's family. But it can happen, and it does. We all need to be prepared to answer the call when it does. My advice is if you have not taken a CPR class, do so. If you have CPR training, don’t be afraid to use it, no matter how long ago it was or how rusty your skills have become.  

Better yet, take a refresher course. I’m putting it on my agenda.