An emotional Ben Horton reflected on an incident that could have changed his family forever if not for the quick response of an off-duty police officer.
“I don’t know what I would do without my daughter in my life. I [have] only known her for seven weeks, but I can’t remember what my life was like before she entered the world,” the Taneytown resident said in an interview. “My family is my everything.”
Horton’s wife, Terria Lemaster, said she was driving on Baltimore Street in Taneytown on Aug. 19 when she looked into the car’s baby mirror. It gave her a clear view of their baby, Ivy-Jade. It was a sight she will not soon forget.
“I looked back, and she was completely red,” Lemaster said. “I pulled over as fast as I could, took her to the sidewalk, and turned her over. She wasn’t breathing and it looked like she was choking on thick mucus.”
Lemaster stopped, her voice filled with emotion.
“She is my first baby, so it was hard,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for help; I was just trying to get her airway clear. In the middle of all that, this woman pulled over, and then a man pulled over, too.
“The woman asked, ‘Do you need help? I’m an off-duty state trooper,’ ” Lemaster said, and then she handed over her 6-week-old baby.
Trooper 1st Class Amber Cerreto is a 10-year veteran of the Maryland State Police.
“The first thing I noticed was where she was pulled over,” Cerreto said. “On that part of the roadway vehicles aren’t normally in the travel portion. Then I saw Lemaster at the rear of her vehicle and she appeared to be in distress.”
Cerreto said she didn’t hesitate.
“I swore an oath to protect and defend the citizens of Maryland — and anywhere else if I am able, whether or not I am on duty,” she said.
Lemaster watched as Cerreto flipped Ivy-Jade over and began to lightly pound on her back.
“She knew exactly how to get a baby breathing,” Lemaster said. “Afterward, she talked to me. She told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to do this.’ She was so nice.”
Cerreto said was trained in infant CPR in 2010. She recently recertified during a biannual update with the Maryland State Police. This was the first time she had to use what she learned on an infant.
“Infants are so small and delicate that you have to be deliberate with the back thrusts using the palm of your hand,” she said. “In addition, instead of using two hands as you would with an adult or adolescent you would use two fingers to complete the compressions.”
Cerreto said Lemaster had a look of relief on her face as she watched her daughter take in fresh air.
“It was almost as though she herself could breathe again,” Cerreto said. “This is why I continue to serve the State of Maryland as a trooper. I happen to be in the right place at the right time, and I will not stop in my continued effort to protect as many people as I can. I am relieved that I was able to help both of them and grateful that Lemaster allowed me to assist.”
Lemaster explained how she had stayed calm and focused during the event, but afterward, she said, she was “a mess.”
“I had to call Ben and ask him to leave work,” she said. Horton found the missed call from his wife on his lunch break.
“I called her back, and she was distraught, crying and telling me all about Ivy-Jade, how she [had] stopped breathing while she was driving home and how an off-duty state trooper had assisted her and saved Ivy. I felt a mixture of emotions, so helpless that I wasn’t able to be there when my child needed help, and grateful that Amber was there to help my wife and baby, concerned that there is definitely something wrong with my daughter and that she needed to go to the doctor, concerned for my wife’s mental fortitude after the events of the day, and relieved that everyone was alive.”
It was not long until the two were headed to the doctor with Ivy-Jade. That’s where they learned their little girl has acid reflux.
“They said [the choking] is a panic response, because their airways are so tiny it can go up their nose,” Lemaster said. “She had already been having some sinus issues, so, for her, it was a mucus that got stuck.”
After it was all over, Lemaster realized she hadn’t gotten the names of either person who stopped to help, so she took to the Taneytown Neighborhood group page on Facebook, posting: “To the man and woman who stopped while I was panicking on the side of the road with a choking 6-week-old, thank you for getting her to breathe correctly and teaching me CPR for a child. I can never thank you enough!”
Cerreto saw the post and responded, “I’m glad to hear your daughter is better. Sorry we met in circumstances like this, but I’m happy to hear she is better now. Learn that CPR!”
Lemaster said she is almost grateful it happened, because she now knows what to do if it happens again. She said she is eternally grateful to the two people who stopped to help and is still hoping the man who stopped will also see her Facebook post, so she can thank him.
She said she will never forget how Cerreto saved Ivy-Jade’s life.
Cerreto had a message for the entire family: “I hope your baby girl continues to grow up — into a strong woman one day. Thank you for allowing me to help you. And to Ivy-Jade — you are stronger than you know, even at 6 weeks. Keep it up!”