Paramedic Kevin Thomas was close to ending his overnight shift in the early morning of February 2016 when he received one last emergency call for the day: a pediatric cardiac respiratory arrest in Pearl River, a New Orleans suburb.
The emergency involved a newborn baby named Sophia Ruth Smith, who was only six hours old and suffered a cardiac arrest after a home birth delivery.
As the ambulance sped to the scene 13 miles away, Kevin’s thoughts raced in his mind as he reviewed the steps he’d need to take to treat Sophia. It was his first pediatric cardiac arrest call.
“I don’t remember the drive to the house,” said Kevin, who works for Acadian Ambulance. “All I remember is being nauseated. Just that feeling of you’re going to have a child’s life in your hands. You just feel sick to your stomach.”
When the ambulance arrived at the home, the fire department was already on the scene. Sarah, Sophia’s mother, said her husband had been doing CPR on his daughter whose skin had turned blue. Kevin immediately provided aid to Sophia.
“He was on it from the moment he came into the house and took over the chest compressions and took over the CPR,” Sarah said about Kevin’s assistance. “He didn’t skip a beat.”
Sophia had a pulse, but she was having problems breathing. Kevin and his EMT immediately put a bag-valve mask on Sophia to deliver oxygen to her lungs to help her breathe and started an IV.
A helicopter ambulance had already been called to transport Sophia to the hospital, but Kevin realized that there was no time to wait for the helicopter. Sophia needed to get to the hospital immediately.
Sarah remembered how Kevin advocated for Sophia to be taken to a nearby hospital by an ambulance ride instead of a helicopter.
“He knew there was not time to get her to the helicopter and transfer her to the hospital,” she said. “I remember he was on the phone with different hospitals because they didn’t want to take her. He fought and fought to get her to one close by.”
Sophia was rushed to a hospital via ambulance ride. Her prognosis was bleak. Sarah said Sophia suffered major organ failure and brain damage. The doctors told Sarah and her husband to let Sophia go, as she would be in a vegetative state and have no quality of life.
Fortunately, Sophia defied the odds and survived. She is now four years old.
“I look at her today and thank goodness that we followed our faith and that we didn’t make that choice,” Sarah said. “That we didn’t make the decision. That we left it up to God and his will and his way.”
Sarah describes her daughter as an outgoing, loving child who has a smile that lights up a room. Sarah said Sophia is nonverbal, but she communicates so well just who she is.
“She’ll let you know what she wants,” Sarah said. “She is extremely independent. We have nine kids. We treat her like the other kids. I think that has helped with her development and her getting to the point she is today.”
Sarah said Kevin’s experience the day that he responded to the emergency call and provided treatment to Sophia made a difference.
“His experience was what we needed for her to be here today,” she said. “When we left the hospital, her doctor over at Ochsner Baptist, the head doctor of the NICU, said there is no scientific reason why your daughter should be alive today. She was that bad. She was that sick. It was their (emergency responders) quick response and everything he did.”
Sarah will not forget how Kevin called the hospital after the incident to talk to the nurse to make sure that Sophia survived.
“God put the right people right where they needed to be,” she said. “Kevin will always have a huge place in our hearts forever.”
Kevin keeps in touch with Sarah and sees Sophia’s progress through a Facebook group that her mother started.
“l look at her Facebook page all the time because her mom posts a lot of things on the page because of her progression,” he said. “She had a low chance of survival. And here she is four years old.”
Kevin began his career as an EMT with Acadian in 2004. He later earned his paramedic certification and now serves as a Critical Care Paramedic. His EMT training was based on American Heart Association guidelines. He was recognized as a finalist for Acadian Ambulance Paramedic of the Year for the Northshore region of the New Orleans area in 2018.
Kevin said he feels like he’s a savior for his community of Slidell, as he works to protect safety and health. He said EMS personnel provide pre-hospital care and can be the difference between life and death.
“They are special people who always put themselves in danger to help the ones in need,” Kevin said.