On a rainy Saturday morning, a hospital emergency room in New Orleans can’t seem to live up to its name. Most of the curtained trauma rooms sit empty.
Shelves of clean white bandages remain untouched. A thin, dark-complected woman in blue scrubs stares sleepily across newly waxed, unpeopled floors – waiting for the boredom of the night shift to end.
It is quiet. Not the kind of kind quiet one can enjoy, but a healing silence.
Suddenly, an explosion of action.
Emergency room nurses and staff burst through a set of double-doors, yelling instructions and directions and calling for unseen assistance. A young woman runs along side them. She is weeping – “Oh my, baby! My baby! Oh, please! No!”
In the center of the rushing crowd a brown-haired woman in blue scrubs tries to revive a motionless black baby boy, wrapped in a soft blanket. She covers the infant’s mouth with her own, puffing a series of quick rescue breaths into the child’s tiny lungs. Other patients and their families look on anxiously as the nurse tries to save the idle infant.
He is a child of New Orleans and an innocent among us.
The medical entourage sweeps around a corner, lunges down another hallway and disappears. The young mother’s wails trail behind. “My baby!” she weeps. Her anguish fills the halls. Patients and families linger near curtained trauma rooms. No one else speaks.
The mother’s grief has become their own.
Suddenly, the emergency room is quiet again. It isn’t the healing silence of before, but a long, deathly calm. One by one, nurses, aides and interns, return solemnly to an office/reception area. Just moments ago, their eyes filled with fierce purpose as if all the hopes and dreams for the future of the city depended on the life of one baby. Now, they look at the floor; their shoulders sag. One petite, blond-haired nurse sits at a computer. Her face darkens as she begins to type.
A visitor asks another hospital employee what happened to the infant. The worker, who’s reaching into a medical supply cabinet, replies without turning. “That baby is dead,” she says, quietly.
Down the hall, a voice calls for the hospital chaplain.
Quinton O’Neal “King” Franklin Jr. was 3 weeks old when he died on Oct. 19.
A picture of the toddler in his red “Superman” shirt appeared with his obituary one week later in editions of The Times-Picayune and The New Orleans Advocate.
The son of Quinton O’Neal Franklin Sr. and Myeisha Jenkins, baby Quinton died of natural causes at Touro Infirmary, Orleans Parish Chief Coroner’s Investigator John Gagliano confirms. Further testing would be required for a specific cause of death.
In Orleans Parish, the three leading causes of infant mortality are low-birth weight, birth defects and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, says Teresa Falgoust, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans-based advocacy group Agenda for Children.
Baby Quinton’s tragic death doesn’t fit our city’s violent motif – or a column about crime, frankly.
Not at all.
Countless New Orleans area children have been killed, maimed or traumatized in recent years by drive-by shootings and other senseless acts.
Baby Quinton wasn’t among them.
Homicide is the leading killer of black males age 15 to 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Baby Quinton lived less than a month. Yet, he touched the hearts of many.
His Monday morning funeral in a tough downtown neighborhood probably doesn’t fit too many expectations either. A heart-shaped arrangement of daisies stands next to the infant’s open blue casket. A smiling Mickey Mouse doll sits in the child’s coffin, surrounded by bright new toys. Rev. Matt Turner surveys the crowd of some 75 working-class mourners at Charbonnet-Labat-Glapion Funeral Home (1615 St. Philip St.) saying: “How many of you know that bad things happen to good people?”
Several in the crowd reply “Amen.”
The minister offers young Quinton’s devastated parents the solace of faith. He praises the baby’s father for standing by his mother’s side and recalls a Biblical promise for their painful loss: “This too shall pass.”
A second pastor recounts the death of his own son last March, adding, “When you’ve lost one of your children, you’ve lost a great part of you.”
More than a few mourners reply, “Amen.”
Reverend Turner closes the service, with a eulogy for Baby Quinton: “He was an angel who knew no sin.”
Baby Quinton will be numerically represented in future reports about the infant mortality rate in New Orleans, defined as the percentage of babies who died before reaching their first birthday.
In 2009, for example, there were 4,582 babies born in New Orleans; 39 died before their first birthday, which gives the city an infant mortality rate of 8.5 per 1,000 births, according to the nonprofit March of Dimes. (The national rate was 6.4 infant deaths per 1,000 live births).
What matters most is not how they die but that they should live.
They are all children of New Orleans.
Some are like baby Quinton who showed us the tender side of tough neighborhoods and the loving families therein. They remind us of life’s wonder and many possibilities (not just the limitations). They inspire heroic efforts of teachers, musicians, police, firefighters, and yes, emergency room doctors, nurses and staff.
Like baby Quinton, they are only children. And all children are too young to die.
Innocents among us.
Angels “without sin.”