Just after 5 PM last Tuesday, park ranger and United Hatzalah volunteer EMT Afiw Bkreia was finishing up some paperwork in his office in the national park of Nachal Amud in Galilee, when he heard a woman screaming outside: “My baby is dead.” He rushed outside and was able to save the infant’s life by dislodging a banana that was stuck in his windpipe.
Bkreia, who lives in the town of Peki’in, recalled: “When I heard the screams I ran outside and saw a woman holding a baby. She was screaming and running with him. I ran up to her. She told me that her son had choked and was dying. I told her that I was a United Hatzalah EMT and I took the baby from her arms. I saw that his eyes were rolled back in his head and he was turning blue due to lack of oxygen. Thankfully, he still had a pulse. I put my hand underneath him and began to administer measured back blows in order to help the baby dislodge the food trapped in his windpipe.”
“While I was holding the baby, he began to lose consciousness and his body loosened up. The baby’s parents turned away, unable to look at their son dying. I told myself that I would not give up. I turned the baby so that he was facing down and applied a stronger back blow. I opened his mouth and with my finger attempted to dislodge the blockage. I was able to remove a bit of it and on the next back blow, a piece of banana flew out of the baby’s mouth. The baby began to breathe again. I held the baby in a position that allowed him to take in more breaths, and made sure that his airway stayed open. His color slowly began to return to normal. I asked another person to get below the baby and tell me what he saw happening to the baby’s face and he told me that the baby’s color was returning to normal,” he said.
Bkreia continued: “I heard the baby breathing and it sounded like part of the food was still stuck in his throat. I debated whether or not to lift the baby up because I was worried that he would choke once more. People began to gather around me. I told them to call United Hatzalah’s dispatch to send additional help. I needed to keep my cool because everyone around me was hysterical. I heard the mother in the background crying that her baby was dead. I told one of the people standing nearby to bring the mother over and see that her son was still alive. At first, she didn’t believe me. I insisted that she come and see that everything was going to be okay. After the baby was breathing normally again, I lifted him up and he managed to swallow the remaining portion of the banana. That’s when other responders began to arrive. They took the baby and transferred him to an ambulance so that he could be taken to the hospital and be monitored. The family thanked me profusely and the father gave me the biggest hug I had had in a long time.”
Bkreia, who is married and has a son of his own, was staying late at the park to close up and make sure that all of the visitors had left, as recently visitors who are on their summer vacation have been getting stranded or lost in the park. He said he was grateful to be given the opportunity to save a life.
“I have been present at CPRs, even a CPR on an infant in my village, and, unfortunately, I was not able to help in that situation. Thankfully, in this instance, I was able to help before it became a CPR situation,” he said. “I thank God for giving me this opportunity, and for choosing me to save this baby’s life. It fills me with joy to know that I had a hand in it.”
Bkreia is a very active member of his community in Peki’in. In addition to volunteering as a United Hatzalah EMT, he also runs a photo club for the Druze residents of the Galilee and is a part of the local canine rescue unit. He also volunteers as a representative for environmental protection in his local regional council.
President and Founder of United Hatzalah Eli Beer revealed: “On Tuesday night, I received a message from a good friend of mine, someone who has donated to support the work of our volunteers, thanking me for saving his 9-month-old grandson. This incredible life-saving story happened just a few hours earlier, when his family was on a trip in Nachal Amud. Their baby choked and within less than 90 seconds Afiw was there and saved the child. This is what I mean when I say that arriving at the scene within the first 90 seconds after the event is crucial in lifesaving.”
“Thanks to the lifesaving network that United Hatzalah has managed to build, even in such an isolated area we have good-hearted volunteers who are always ready to save lives when called upon. That is the power of what we do. Thanks to the efficiency and quickness of this courageous volunteer, this baby is alive today and home with his family,” Beer said.