Marina Alvarez holds her 14-month-old son Esteban and kisses the chunky toddler on the cheek as she talks with her neighbor Thomas Locke in the front yard of her northeast Las Vegas home.
As they remember what happened on a night in April, the young mother closes her eyes and hugs her little one so tight that he squeals with laughter, obviously thinking Mommy is playing a new game with him.
But Esteban, bless his heart, is still too young to understand why this conversation has Mommy squeezing him this way, why Mommy is showering him in kisses even as her eyes glisten with tears.
One day, his mommy says later, he will understand that she can’t help herself when she thinks about what might have happened, that she needs to hold him near whenever she recalls the night where his death seemed close at hand. She’s sure talking about the memory will make her act the same way when her son is 5, 25 or 105.
“You just want to hold the one you love so close when you relive those moments, you cherish him even more,” Alvarez says. “If I hadn’t known my neighbor, I might not have Esteban today.”
For years, police have urged people to know their neighbors to help fend off criminals often intent on burglarizing homes. A simple phone call to a neighbor can often determine whether someone outside a house is a repairman or a thug requiring a call to 911.
For Alvarez and her husband, Esteban Patrocinio, knowing their neighbors may have also meant the difference between life and death for the child they prayed they would bring into this world.
“I know CPR but I was hysterical, too scared I would fail my own baby,” Alvarez says. “It is so different when it is your own child. I’m just glad I knew Thomas worked at a hospital.”
It was on an evening shortly after Easter when little Esteban started acting strangely. The baby food he normally loved seemed to irritate him: He cried hysterically when Daddy went into the bathroom, vomited heavily when Daddy opened the door.
After Alvarez put the baby in the bathtub to clean him up, he played for a little while like he usually does, splashing and giggling, but then he bent forward and suddenly straightened up. Fine all day, he now seemed hot. As she picked him up, his face turned red, then blue. His eyes went into the back of his head.
He wasn’t breathing.
“My husband put our baby on the bed and he twitched twice as my husband was trying to take his tongue out,” Alvarez recalls. “I was crying and saying, ‘Oh, God, no.’ I ran across the street to Thomas’ house as I was dialing 911 on the phone.”
It was 9 p.m. when Locke, a 50-year-old retired Air Force medic now employed as a Centennial Hills Hospital MRI technician, heard a loud banging on his front door. The woman he had seen so happy over becoming pregnant –– he barbecued for her baby shower –– was screaming, “My baby’s not breathing!”
In just his scrub bottoms and barefoot, Locke, a father of two children, ran across the street to where the elder Esteban was holding his son in the front yard. Praying aloud, he gave the seemingly lifeless child to Locke, who checked his pulse. There was none.
He then put the child over one arm and delivered three quick back blows.
“My husband was so upset he threw up,” Alvarez remembers.
She noticed that the three sets of back blows delivered by her neighbor, combined with placing Esteban over his shoulder and patting him on the back, caused him to spit up something. Just before Locke began to breathe into the child’s mouth, he found a pulse. The baby was breathing.
“We couldn’t see in the dark what he spit up but it might have been his own vomit,” Alvarez says, recalling that Locke explained the situation to paramedics en route to her house.
Then 10 months old, Esteban ended up at Sunrise Hospital with a 104 degree temperature. Tests were inconclusive and doctors say he might have suffered a febrile seizure, a convulsion triggered by a fever. During such seizures, which are generally harmless, breathing can stop and then start again on its own.
Whether that would have happened in Esteban’s case, doctors can’t say.
What Alvarez can say is that her son started breathing after Locke cared for him.
She also says this: “Get to know your neighbors. You never know how you can help each other.”
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2908.