Police officer Bill O’Connell showed up late for an appointment with the mayor Wednesday to receive his promotion to sergeant.
But he had a good excuse: The off-duty officer was saving the life of a toddler who had fallen head first into a five-gallon bucket of Pine Sol and water.
O’Connell, of Davie, Fla., had dropped off his 2-year-old daughter about 10:40 a.m. at his mother-in-law’s Hialeah home when he got the call over his radio that “a baby had drowned.”
The nearest police unit was across town, but O’Connell was only 10 blocks away.
He thought briefly about his 11 a.m. appointment with Mayor Raul Martinez. Then O’Connell jumped into his Buick Sentry.
A minute later, O’Connell pulled into a parking space 20 feet from the apartment.
On the couch, 21-month-old Lissette Perez lay still. Starved of oxygen, her face was purple.
O’Connell began administering CPR. But when Lissette lost control of her bowels, he thought he had lost her.
“After two minutes, I was exhausted,” O’Connell said. “But I looked down and saw my baby as well and kept working on her. I said, ‘Please God, let this baby live.”’
A few seconds later, Lissette threw up and started breathing. When paramedics arrived, they stuck a needle in her arm and she cried.
“That’s when I cried too,” O’Connell said. “People who are brain damaged usually can’t feel anything. At that point, I knew she probably would be all right.”
Doctors at Palmetto General Hospital told O’Connell on Wednesday afternoon that Lissette did not seem to have brain damage. But they transferred her to Miami Children’s Hospital. She will be watched closely for 72 hours to make sure the Pine Sol won’t cause a throat or lung infection.
Lissette’s parents, Vivian and Juan Perez, could not be reached for comment. But O’Connell said they were grateful and plan to enroll in a CPR course.
Lissette isn’t the first life O’Connell has saved in 16 years as a Hialeah officer. In 1986, he dived into a canal to save a drunk driver. In 1987, he helped rescue eight adults from a burning apartment building. And during the past five years, he helped stop two gang shootouts.
All those incidents happened while O’Connell was on duty.
He wasn’t scheduled to work Wednesday until 3 p.m. If it weren’t for the promotion, O’Connell would have been at home with his daughter.
Said Martinez: “It definitely seems like destiny.”