DODGE CITY, Kan. – The day began just as any other for Spc. Kristyn Harding, a combat medic with the 1077th Ground Ambulance Company, Kansas Army National Guard.
Harding, along with her teammates from the 731st Transportation Company and the 190th Air Refueling Wing, had been mobilized to Dodge City to support the Ford County Health Department with drive-thru COVID-19 testing for the community May 19. As residents drove their vehicles into the vacant lot, awaiting their turn to be tested, a cry for help halted their mission.
"I went to do traffic control while we were doing registration when Specialist Harding yelled for help," recounts Spc. Issac Alberto, 1077th Ground Ambulance Company combat medic. "I stopped traffic and looked to see Harding had an infant in her hands."
Harding had been assigned to go car-to-car to collect information from patients as part of the registration for testing. However, Harding's duties were abruptly interrupted by a panicked mother in the driver's seat of a car.
"I was filling out a clipboard for the mother when she looked back and started screaming, 'He's not breathing,'" said Harding. "I took a step back so she could exit the parked vehicle. I looked in the vehicle and the child in the backseat was blue in the face."
Harding immediately jumped into action and pulled the mother out of the way so she could unclip the child from the car seat. Holding the infant face down, Harding began to administer the choking rescue procedures for babies by giving him a few slaps on the back.
"I looked at his little cheeks and they were blue, his lips were blue," Harding said. "So I slapped him on the back a few more times until he dislodged whatever it was and he started crying."
"Just by seeing her put the baby in that position I knew the baby wasn't breathing," said Alberto. "I called on the radio that we had a baby not breathing and would need an ambulance."
Capt. Mark Meyerhoff, test-site executive officer and 190th Air Refueling Wing physician assistant, received the call from Alberto and immediately rushed to the registration line. As he approached, Meyerhoff could hear the child's cries, indicating his airway was clear.
"To me, that is a great sign of the training she's had in her military and civilian work experience," said Meyerhoff. "When an emergency happens, you go into the automatic mode."
Harding doesn't like being called a hero. She said she did her job and acted calmly and accordingly. However, with over eight years of civilian experience as a fire medic in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and nearly two years as a combat medic with the Kansas National Guard, her training and readiness allowed her to be a hero in that moment.
The team ultimately determined the child likely choked on water he was drinking. After ensuring the child's airway was clear and showing good color and response, the medical team was able to complete the family's screening and send them on their way.
"She was a hero," said Meyerhoff. "If she hadn't been there, that mother and that child's life could be different, and as much as she would downplay it, it was a selfless act for someone else."