TAMPA — Deputy Steven Donaldson pulled an unconscious toddler into his arms, and in his mind, he ran through the CPR refresher course he had just taken three weeks earlier.
But first he needed people to shut up.
"A crowd had gathered around me, and I had to keep yelling at everyone to be quiet so I could hear the baby," he said.
Donaldson was the Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy on duty at the Tax Collector's Office in east Tampa the afternoon of Nov. 4. He wasn't even supposed to be working; the 50-year-old, 23-year veteran of the force was filling in for a colleague.
Shakira Nelson burst through the front doors about 2 p.m., her frantic screams echoing through the building. She carried her 15-month-old son, Cory Carmichael, in her arms.
"My baby isn't breathing!"
Donaldson took the child and assessed his vital signs. He was unresponsive. The deputy laid him flat on the ground and immediately began chest compressions.
Less than 30 seconds later, little "CJ" began to breathe. Paramedics soon arrived to take the boy to the hospital.
Nelson and her mother, Denise Benson, had been getting ready to leave the Tax Collector's Office after a visit to update Nelson's driver's license. They were settling CJ into the car when the child, suffering from an ear infection that gave him a 102-degree fever, began foaming at the mouth.
Nelson ran back inside the office and found the man in the uniform.
"I just left it in God's hands," Nelson said. "I know he knows his job. For him to be here protecting and serving his country, he has to know his job."
On Friday, Cory and Donaldson were reunited during a small ceremony in the deputy's honor back at the Tax Collector's Office.
Baby CJ bounced in his mother's arms, chattering at the people around him and delighting in the lights of the news cameras.
"I feel like he's gained a few pounds since I saw him last," Donaldson quipped.
He wasn't so lighthearted when last they met.
"I'd rather approach a gang of bank robbers than have to do CPR on an infant again," Donaldson said. "I was afraid I was going to break him; I was probably more afraid than his mother."
Nelson said if she has her way, this won't be the last time her boy visits with Donaldson.
"Hopefully we can see him again and again, so he can watch him grow," she said.
Donaldson had already been hailed a hero for launching a homeless initiative in the Sheriff's Office and getting dozens of homeless people off the streets.
"You saved the life of a human being," Tax Collector Doug Belden told the deputy. "Bottom line, Deputy Donaldson, you are a true hero."
Donaldson was called upon to save a child before.
Sitting in traffic one day at Hillsborough and Lois avenues, he saw a woman jump out of the car in front of him and run toward his patrol car. Her child wasn't breathing.
This time, the baby revived as soon as Donaldson picked him up. The experiences have made this champion of the homeless an advocate for another cause.
"Learn CPR," he said. "People freeze in the moment, but you have to just do it; tell yourself you're doing the right thing, do it now."
Contact Libby Baldwin at [email protected],com. Follow her at @LibBaldwin