BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. — It's easy to understand why one mother was in a panic.
Alicia Ritchie says she's thankful to first responders for their help, and their kindness. The mother of six, including 4-month-old Koen, says it was Wednesday morning when she was forced to call 911 for help. Her baby son was born prematurely, and needs extra help while eating and sleeping, as he lives with apnea and reflux.
Ritchie says it was around 7:30 a.m. when little Koen began choking, foaming at the mouth and turning blue.
"He just started gagging and gurgling and then, he started turning blue," Ritchie told FOX 4 News on Thursday.
Ritchie says Koen was born at 29 weeks, and spent 68 days in a nearby hospital neonatal intensive care unit. She says the baby's esophagus is still developing, and he sometimes chokes, but this is the first time he's turned blue.
"I was really scared, especially after all the time we spent in the NICU," Ritchie said.
Ritchie says 911 dispatchers responded promptly, sending Blue Springs Police Patrol Officer Kate Tipton, along with paramedics. Officer Tipton says when she arrived at the Ritchie home, the baby was much better, and breathing fine after Alicia cleared his airway while first responders were en route.
"I was looking at her, and her significant other, I could tell they were desperate for sleep. I was relating to that," Ofc. Tipton said.
Ofc. Tipton, a 10-year police veteran, says she understands because she's a new mother too, and her son deals with some of the same issues Koen does. Ofc. Tipton says she learned the Ritchie family has huge hospital bills, due to Koen's long NICU stay, and while there are baby-related items that could help him to avoid choking, the Ritchies can't afford them.
Alicia Ritchie says the family is faced with nearly $200,000 in hospital costs.
Two Blue Springs Police officers, including Ofc. Ritchie, provided two Rock and Plays, a device that will help Koen's head remain elevated while he sleeps. Police also donated a special harness that will allow Alicia to carry her baby hands-free, strapping him to her torso. Ritchie says Ofc. Tipton even fed the baby his morning bottle.
"She asked, 'Where's your formula? where's your bottles?' and she walked right in the kitchen and fed him," Ritchie smiled.
Tipton and her police partner, who asked that her name be withheld, even collected food, toys, baby clothing, and a series of store gift cards for the Ritchies.
The two officers say some of those items were purchased from their own checking accounts. Others were donated by the Community Service League, an agency based in Independence that assists families who are in need.
"I'm not going to see a family struggling, especially when they have a baby who has the issues that Koen has. In my heart, I needed to help them, any way I could," Ofc. Tipton said.
Ritchie says she's most grateful for the police officers' kindness, because, in her words, all they had to do was their job. Instead, the police department sent a mother to care for a fellow mother in need.
"The way she talked to me, and was listening to me, she could tell I was overwhelmed and tired and stressed out. All the time we spent in the hospital was really long," Ritchie said.
And an expression of kindness from two public servants made a stressful event easier for a family who needed help.