Buffalo Police Officer Sherry Holtz answered a 911 call Monday afternoon, rushed up stairs to the third floor apartment and saw a mother holding her lifeless son.
She immediately began resuscitation and revived the 1-month-old baby.
For Holtz, saving lives is becoming part of her routine. This was the third child’s life she has saved in her nine years on the force.
“There are three people on this earth who are here to celebrate the holidays with their families because of the actions of Sherry,” Central District Chief Joseph A. Gramaglia said. “You would be fortunate enough in your career to have a story of saving one life, let alone three lives and counting.”
The other two live-saving situations involved the near drowning of an 8-year-old boy in a downtown hotel swimming pool in 2011 and a 1-year-old boy who was choking on a plastic object from a toy in 2009.
What races through her mind when she is thrown into life-and-death situations?
“I say the Our Father all the time,” said Holtz, who is the mother of a 23-year-old daughter and grandmother of a 2-week-old boy and 4-year-old boy.
Monday was no different when she responded at 3:25 p.m. to a call of a “baby not breathing” on the 300 block of Bryant Street, near Elmwood Avenue. After climbing the stairs to the apartment, she spotted the mother, who appeared to be in a state of shock, holding her lifeless son outside the apartment.
“I took the child from her arms. He was limp. I asked her to open her apartment door and I placed the baby on the couch. I noticed a little bit of blood beneath his one nostril and I tried to find a pulse and there was none,” Holtz said.
Because of infant’s size, she decided to first try rubbing the child’s spine and then his sternum, rather than perform chest compressions or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
“I was still unable to detect a pulse and firefighters arrived and one of them tried to locate a pulse but couldn’t. I continued to rub the sternum and after several attempts, there was a pulse. An ambulance crew put the baby on a gurney and transported him to the hospital,” she said.
Holtz drove the infant’s mother, Malida Yuwar, and her 3-year-old daughter, to Women & Children’s Hospital, about a block away.
“It took awhile but the baby started crying, and the doctors told me he was looking good,” Holtz said.
A few days later, Holtz returned to the hospital and received even better news. O’Bryan Yuwar’s breathing had returned to normal and his brain functions were “perfect.”
The mother, who moved to the United States from Liberia seven years ago, had given birth to O’Bryan at Women & Children’s on Nov. 11, about a month after relocating here from Rhode Island.
“The officer did an amazing job, and I am so grateful she got there when she did,” Yuwar said. “I don’t want anything else for the holidays. This is great.”
Five years ago, Holtz answered a call of a possible drowning in the pool at Adam’s Mark Hotel.
“I happened to be at Police Headquarters when I got the call, and it took me less than a minute to get over to the hotel,” Holtz said.
When she arrived, an adult had moved the unconscious child to the pool’s edge. Holtz grabbed the boy and pulled him from the water.
“I turned him onto his side with another adult and as we were turning him, water came out of his mouth. It was lot of water and he started coughing and breathing. An ambulance crew came and took over,” Holtz said.
But Holtz said her first time of saving a child holds a special place in her heart.
On an afternoon in 2009, she answered a 911 call of a baby who was choking at a residence on the 200 block of Niagara Street. Holtz happened to be a just a few blocks away.
“I was able to get there right away. The mom told me her 12-month-old son wasn’t breathing and that he had swallowed a toy. He was blue when I saw him. I took the baby from her and put my finger in his mouth and felt something far in his throat that I couldn’t grip.
“I leaned the baby over forward and started slapping his back. Then I tried to reach the object again but couldn’t. I bent him over again and hit his back a little more, reached into his mouth again and was able to get the toy.”
The object turned out to be a section from a plastic bubble that had contained a small vending machine toy, but even with the boy’s airway cleared, he still was not breathing.
“I gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and a couple chest compressions and he started crying.”
At that point, two other officers arrived and Holtz, overwhelmed, handed one of them the baby.
“I went outside to my car and started crying. It was so emotional.”
But the story does not end there.
Three years ago, she received a call to the same address on a noncriminal matter, and when she entered the mother’s home, Holtz experienced a sense of familiarity.
“I asked the mother if I had ever been there before and she responded with a smile, nodded her head and pointed to her son who was about four years old and said, ‘He’s here because of you.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God. I remember that call.’ The mom started hugging me, and so did her son.”
The key to succeeding as an officer is to be empathetic, says Holtz, 44.
She worked for the police department as a report technician for a decade before fulfilling her passion of becoming an officer.
She was following in her father’s footsteps, a retired Buffalo police lieutenant, and her late grandfather, who was a Buffalo police officer.
“I super love my job. I’m a people person. You absolutely need empathy with this job. You have to find the good in people, even if it is a call involving a dangerous situation. How you approach the situation and people initially plays a huge role in the outcome,” she said. “We’re counselors, we’re peacemakers.”
And having had the chance to save yet another life, Holtz said, is reward enough for her this holiday season.