Stuck in driving rain and stop-and-go traffic, Shukri Abdirahman pulled over before she could make it to a hospital with her three young children in the back seat of the car. Her 3-year-old son, Gabriel, was having a seizure.
It had been a time of hardship for the family. The children’s parents had split, forcing Abdirahman and her kids to live in a shelter. All three children were going through so many medical problems that there were dozens of emergency medical calls in the last few months. Gabriel had had seizures before, but never on a highway. Abdirahman said she had never before been so terrified. She needed help.
She would get that and more.
Sgt. Eric Petersen was at the Mendota Heights police station when the call came in about 5 p.m. on Oct. 6. He was less than a mile away, so he took it. When he got to the car parked on the side of I-35E, “I saw the little guy, Gabriel,” Petersen said.
The boy was still seizing. Petersen rubbed his chest, working to calm him and help him breathe.
“I wanted to see if I could get Gabriel to come awake,” Petersen said.
When Gabriel awoke, Petersen picked up the boy to comfort him.
“It’s like he knew exactly what to do,” Abdirahman said.
As Petersen held him in his arms, Abdirahman told him that Gabriel loved the police. He had a toy police helicopter in the car and various police stickers. When an ambulance took longer to get to the car than expected, Petersen carried Gabriel to his squad car and sat him in the front seat. Gabriel played with the lights. Petersen gave him temporary police tattoos and his card, writing down his number on the back. He told Gabriel he could call any time he wanted.
Over the next week in the hospital, Gabriel clutched the card in his hand. He slept with it under his pillow. He called Petersen “my buddy.”
After Gabriel got out of the hospital, Abdirahman broke the news to her son that there wouldn’t be enough money for a party for his upcoming birthday. Was there anything she could do that would make it up for him? she asked.
“Yes mommy,” Abdirahman said her son told her. “Take me to say hello to my buddy.”
Abdirahman called Petersen and told him of the troubles the family has been going through. She asked if her son could visit him at the station for his birthday. Of course, the officer said.
Petersen wanted to do more than just a visit. He spoke with other staff, and a plan snowballed. They decorated the station with balloons, got cupcakes and wrapped toys.
The next day, Gabriel and his family arrived to a surprise party. “I walked into something I couldn’t give my son,” Abdirahman said.
As his mother wept, Gabriel ran to the toys and cupcakes. Then he pulled out the mangled business card from his pocket.
Now Gabriel goes to sleep every night with a new card from Petersen, and a Mendota Heights police stocking cap. “I’ve been in this job for 20 years,” Petersen said. “It’s things like this that make me want to continue to do this job.”