Lake’s Dawn Johnson saw her 7-year-old son Alexander having a grand mal seizure
while driving eastbound on I-90 on their way shopping Aug. 22, she did
what needed to be done to save his life: She took the Crocker-Bassett exit in
Westlake and pulled over.
Traveling with her were her two teenage children. The three of them lifted Alexander out of the car and started procedures to save his life. They took turns using an ambu-bag to help him breath after calling 9-1-1.
“Immediately I had to get my son out of his car seat, lay him on the side of the ramp (in the grass) and accessed him,” Johnson said in a letter to Patch. “He had stopped breathing. Even though my son is medically fragile I cannot tell you all the emotions that come over you in a situation like this. His life literally fell in my hands.”
Police and medical assistance arrived in minutes and Alexander, after being stabilized at St. John’s Medical Center, was airlifted by a medical helicopter to Cleveland Clinic’s main campus, which has a ventilator for a child his size.
It was after Alexander returned home, stable, that Johnson said a realization hit her hard: Not one person on I-90, at the Crocker-Detroit intersection or coming up the exit ramp, stopped to help.
“No one even rolled down their windows to ask if we needed help,” Johnson said. “I’m appalled. You couldn’t even stop and direct the traffic for me?”
She fired off a letter to Patch.
“At the end of the day once my little boy was stable it hit me, if my teenage children would not have been with me I do not know that I could have performed all the necessary life saving measures alone,” Johnson wrote. “You see, as my son’s lifeless body lay on the side of the exit ramp, needing us to breathe for him, not one single person stopped to inquire if we needed assistance. NOT ONE!”
Johnson drives a recognizable van with a sticker on the back that says “Medically Fragile Child on Board.” Alexander, who is adopted, sustained a brain injury at birth and breathes through a tracheostomy tube.
“I’m sure there were people from Avon Lake driving that recognized my van,” she said. “No one saw us? I’m not buying that.”
She said she asked the two Westlake police officers who arrived if their department received any calls of a child or motorist in distress. They said no.
“Then it hit me, this is repulsive,” Johnson said. “Not one person even bothered calling.”
Johnson said she contacted Patch not to berate those who ignored her and Alexander but to encourage others to stop next time they see a medical emergency and offer some sort of assistance or at least inquire if 9-1-1 needs to be called.
“The purpose of this letter is not to criticize or judge anyone for their lack of action, seeing this is terrifying, I get that,” she wrote. “However, regardless of a person’s medical training or lack thereof sometimes as a parent just knowing there is another adult with you to encourage, pray, or even direct traffic is huge. (See police tips below for hat to do.) I urge you next time any of you drive by someone in a medical crisis do the right thing. Do what you would appreciate someone doing for you.”
Want to help? Here's what to do
Westlake Police Captain Guy Turner said if you are on the side of the road, there are protocols drivers should take, but he does not recommend civilians directing traffic."Stopping on the interstate is risky, because drivers tend to steer at what they are looking at; ergo, a gawker looks at you, he might unconsciously steer toward you and crash into your vehicle," Turner said. "We definitely would NOT want any civilian directing traffic. That is illegal, highly dangerous and a skill that takes some time for even police officers to develop."
Pulling over for what appears to be a life-threatening situation is a judgement call, he said, but noted one should always call for aid first.
He said the more stopped vehicles, persons on foot, and commotion within the roadway, the more dangerous it is. The best way to help is to (carefully) call for police assistance, he said.
"If you don't have a phone, you can help by stopping at a nearby business and asking the staff to call," he said. "Unless you bring those sorts of safety skills to the table, you may just put yourself at risk by pulling over. Better to be a good witness or source of info."