While grown-ups have to deal with a lot of challenges, a child’s biggest concern should be whether or not her friends will want to play tag or jump rope at recess. But on one autumn night in 2017, kindergartener Janessa Sims had far more serious worries on her mind.
On the night of October 23, Janessa violently awoke, coughing and sputtering. Something was terribly wrong with her, and even at age five, she knew she needed help—fast. Unfortunately, what would become the longest night of her life had only just begun…

At five years old, most kids don’t have to worry about anything more than making some friends in kindergarten. That’s how it should have been for young Janessa Sims, as well.

Janet C. Sims / Facebook

Yet on the night of October 23, 2017, the Clifton, New Jersey, girl jolted wide awake in a coughing fit. Her mom, Amber, was just down the hall, so she was completely safe… right?

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In the warmth of her bed, Janessa tried calming herself down with a few deep breaths—but nothing was helping—and she couldn’t breathe. All she could do was make dry gasps for air. Even at such a young age, she knew what was wrong.

This was an asthma attack, and it wasn’t Janessa’s first. Without help, she knew she would be in serious trouble. She hopped out of her bed and rushed down the hall toward her mother’s room as fast as she could.

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Shaken awake by her daughter, Amber immediately reached for an albuterol nebulizer. The device would force Janessa’s air passageways apart and let her breathe. Time was of the essence for the five year old.

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Nervous, frantic, and just woken from a dead sleep, Amber fiddled with the nebulizer, but the contraption took some time to set up. In those precious minutes, however, she noticed that her daughter had already started turning blue…

Right away, Amber called out to her mother, Janet, who was asleep in another room. The grandmother was trained in CPR, but when she rushed in and checked Janessa for signs of life, she realized things were worse than she thought…

Janet C. Sims / Facebook

By that point, Janessa wasn’t breathing at all. She needed professional help, so Amber dialed 9-1-1. Thankfully, the dispatcher, Susan McAvoy, sent help to the Sims’s home and then offered step-by-step CPR guidance to a panicked Janet

Meanwhile, four officers—including Todd Compesi (left) and Sergeant Joshin Smith (right)—received the urgent dispatch. Along with officer Eric Rodriguez and firefighter and EMT Brian Reilly, they rushed toward the home where Janessa was struggling to breathe.

When the first responders arrived, the situation looked grim: Janessa’s heart had stopped completely. “You can just tell, especially with a child,” Officer Rodriguez said. “No pulse, the color in her face, and there’s no breathing.”

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The first responders didn’t call it quits, however. As soon as the EMTs arrived, they carried Janessa’s tiny body to the ambulance, determined to bring her to the hospital before it was too late. Janet, fearing the worst, simply “shut down.”

Janet had been huddled in the corner of the bedroom as the first responders loaded her granddaughter into the ambulance. “I remember the fireman saying, ‘Ma’am come out.'” She was in shock; it was as if her soul had left her body.

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The ambulance’s equipment allowed the medical professionals to open Janessa’s airways, giving her much-needed oxygen. They rushed her to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, where, they soon learned, the trouble was only just beginning…

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Unfortunately, because Janessa had gone so long without oxygen, there was a good chance that she’d suffered serious brain damage. Her doctors had no choice but to take drastic measures…

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Doctors medically induced Janessa into a month-long coma, where they performed test after test on her brain function. Meanwhile, the first responders, crucial in saving the girl’s life, continued to help the Sims family in other ways.

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For instance, while Amber and Janet spent time in the hospital at Janessa’s side, Sergeant Smith visited their home to help Janet’s disabled husband, Andrew. The EMT even brought him dinner one night!

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The incident, Sergeant Smith said, touched him personally because his own two-year-old son recently had an asthma attack. The other first responders also made frequent visits to Janessa in the hospital, offering comfort to the distraught family.

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These house calls and hospital visits were not the norm. “I felt a kinship,” Sergeant Smith said. “This incident touched all of us.” All of the first responders had invested themselves in this girl and her family.

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Eventually, doctors finished their tests on Janessa. Miraculously, she showed no signs of permanent damage, thanks to her grandmother’s CPR and the guidance by the 9-1-1 dispatcher. At long last, they could bring her out of her coma!

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At the end of November, doctors transferred Janessa to a children’s hospital, where she went through intensive therapy to help her walk and talk again. The next month, she was able to visit the firehouse to meet her heroes.

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The crew was ecstatic to see Janessa up and about, but more importantly, they were thankful. “It was nice to get a pat on the back, which doesn’t always happen,” Officer Compesi said. “It was real nice of the family to do that.”

Janet C. Sims / Facebook

After her granddaughter’s miraculous rescue, Janet wanted her community and the world to know one thing: “That there are good policemen and firemen in this world. I want my grandkids to know they can trust police.”

Janet C. Sims / Facebook

Janet continued her glowing appraisal of the men who saved Janessa’s life. “Yes, these people did their job,” she said, “but here we have people who were not only concerned about this child, but her family.”

Janet C. Sims / Facebook

It must have been horrible for Janessa and her family to feel so helpless. Luckily, thanks to the great work by these first responders, it didn’t take long for the little girl to be worry-free!

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