Eyes fixed. Colorless skin. Blue lips. No breathing. No pulse.
His 11-year-old body was as cold as the night air as it lay in the back seat of his mother’s car on a two-lane rural road off I-85 in South Carolina.
The mother was frantic. She knew CPR, but in the fear and confusion of the moment all she could remember was to breathe into his mouth. So she did. But her breaths wouldn’t penetrate his throat. They just went into his mouth and came right back to her, she said.
She screamed at a 911 operator, begging for help. Someone else heard her scream.
Dr. Amir Yazdan, an Irvine hair-transplant doctor and part-time emergency-room physician, had stopped for gas at a nearby Shell station. He and his girlfriend were driving his new white Porsche 911 Turbo home from North Carolina, where they’d flown to pick it up. It was New Year’s Eve, just after dark.
Yazdan, 32, finished pumping gas, entered his vehicle and turned it on. Then he got a text message from a friend, asking him to send him a photo of the new Porsche. It was the third time his friend texted him for a picture, so he decided to finally get it done right there before getting back on the road.
So he got out and snapped a few photos with his smartphone and, just as he gripped the car door to get inside, he heard Marjie Britz screaming at the top of her lungs.
Her son wasn’t breathing.
Yazdan ran over some landscaping, into the busy road and through a small crowd that had gathered at the mother’s car. He grabbed the boy out of the back seat, carried him about 15 feet and laid him down on the side of the road.
“He was dead,” Yazdan said. “Completely lifeless. I really did not think he was going to come back.”
This was different from the emergency room.
No equipment. No drugs. No nurses.
“I was terrified,” Yazdan said. “It was chaotic.”
Then the repetitive training from his residency kicked in, and he started working without thinking about it.
He started chest compressions and then mouth-to-mouth breathing – something he’d never actually done aside from on dummies in medical school. In the ER, a hand-operated bag-and-mask device is used to force breathing.
He asked Tiger’s mother what was wrong with the boy, and she told him that Tiger had an asthma attack that did not respond to medicine treatments at home.
He stopped breathing on their way to the emergency room.
Yazdan asked her for Tiger’s inhaler, which contains albuterol. They sprayed the albuterol into Tiger’s mouth and Yazdan forced it into his lungs with mouth-to-mouth breaths. They did that again and again.
Passersby started praying in a group. His mother prayed as she cried.
Even Yazdan prayed as he performed CPR: “Please God, do not let this child die. Do not let this happen.”
Earlier that night, after Tiger and his mother settled into their pajamas for a night of watching college football, he told her he was having tightness of breath and needed his treatment.
They tried his nebulizer – a machine to administer medicine in mist form – but that didn’t work. They tried his inhaler, but that didn’t work.
She called 911, but the dispatcher could not tell her if paramedics would arrive faster than she could get him to the hospital, so she decided to drive him.
He got in the back seat, because he’s only 60 pounds. He was still wearing his favorite dinosaur pajamas.
But on the way, as Britz was driving faster than 100 mph, he told her that he couldn’t breathe at all.
“I’m dying,” he said, according to Britz.
She stopped the car halfway off the road. She said the next few minutes felt like hours.
At least two minutes went by after Yazdan started CPR, and still there were no signs of life.
And Tiger had been in that state for at least one minute before being pulled from the car, Yazdan estimated, based on the boy’s condition. His mother said he stopped responding to her two minutes earlier.
The longer someone is not breathing, the greater the chance of having permanent brain damage.
Time ticked away. But Yazdan refused to stop trying. Chest compressions. Inhaler. Mouth-to-mouth. Again. Again.
Finally – at least three minutes after Tiger stopped breathing – his heart suddenly starting beating.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Yazdan said. “It was a miracle.”
He thinks the asthma medicine jump-started the boy’s heart. Manual CPR alone is unlikely to restart a heart; its main purpose is to get oxygenated blood to the brain and vital organs until more advanced treatment, such as electrical defibrillation, can be used, according to the Mayo Clinic.
About a minute after he got a pulse, Tiger took a breath.
Roughly four minutes later, an ambulance-paramedic team arrived. Yazdan joined Tiger and his mother in the ambulance and continued giving him breaths with a bag-and-mask device because his breathing was sporadic.
When they arrived at an ER, several nurses met them, and Yazdan started issuing medical orders: chest X-rays, blood tests and a dose of racemic epinephrine (adrenaline). The nurses did what he said.
Yazdan, who lives in Irvine and works at Modena Hair Institute in Irvine and Las Vegas, works one shift a week at an emergency room in Las Vegas to keep his skills sharp, he said.
The racemic epinephrine finally woke Tiger up, and he started breathing regularly on his own, Yazdan said.
His mother’s crying turned into joyful sobbing.
For a while, Tiger would open his eyes, look around until he found his mother and then close them again. She kept assuring him he was going to be all right.
Tiger’s first words: “Did you know there are seven different species of sea turtles?”
The nurses thought he was delirious.
It was just a “Tigerism,” his mother explained. He likes to state random facts.
The fifth-grader also likes to act. He recently played Sheldon in the South Carolina Children’s Theatre’s three-week run of “Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.”
Despite his three to four minutes without oxygen, Tiger did not suffer any perceivable brain damage, according to Yazdan and Britz. In the end, doctors said his severe asthma attack had completely constricted his airways.
He’s doing great now and returned to school Monday.
In a way, Yazdan saved two lives on New Year’s Eve.
“I don’t know how I could have kept on living without my Tiger,” Britz said.
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