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Saving a life is all in a night’s work: Police Officer Andrew Graffagnino and ‘the family business’

When the call came in there was about 15 minutes left in Shelter Island Police Officer Andrew Graffagnino’s 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. tour.

The Southold dispatcher, which routes all medical calls for Shelter Island to the Island’s Emergency Medical Services and the Police Department, was reporting a request for assistance. An infant had stopped breathing.

Officer Graffagnino, along with his partner, Officer David McGahey, were first on the scene, finding a mother, father, and nanny with the 7-day-old baby girl, the couple’s first child, not breathing and discolored.

“There was a ton of panic in that room,” Officer Graffagnino, a full-time veteran of the force of four years, remembered.

The nanny held the child, rocking her back and forth, as the father stood by and the mother was in another room grabbing baby clothes to pack.

The two police officers brought some calm to the situation, and Officer Graffagnino’s infant CPR training kicked in. He asked the nanny to hold the child face down toward her knees and asked the father if there was a suction tube in the house, the kind that clears a child’s nose and throat of mucus for children too young to do it on their own.

The father said they had one and went to get it as Officer Graffagnino began a series of slaps to the baby’s back to stimulate her lungs back to life.

With the tube, he sucked out and cleared mucus from the child’s nose and throat. The baby gasped and began crying. But the officer had to repeat the process several times when the baby’s breathing became shallow.

Officer McGahey said later that without his partner’s quick thinking, calm and efficient actions, “The outcome would have been different.”

When an Island’s EMS team arrived they took the mother and child to Southampton Hospital.

Officer Graffagnino got in touch with the father a few days later — “I was worried because  a loss of breathing can have real consequences” — and was told the child had gone to several other hospitals but was expected to make a full recovery.

“It can wear on you, wondering how people are doing,” he said. “I was happy it worked out for everyone.”

For that life-saving mission and, as Police Chief Jim Read said, “Input from several officers and a review of departmental records, calls and statistics,” Police Officer Graffagnino was selected the Shelter Island Police Department’s Officer of the Year for 2020.

Born in Nassau County but moving with his family to the Island when he was a child, Officer Graffagnino is a graduate of the New England Institute of  Technology, majoring in business management and marine biology. But he decided to, as he said, “go into the family business.” His grandfather is a retired Nassau County police officer and his father, former Shelter Island Board of Education President Thomas Graffagnino, is a retired New York City police officer.

The young Islander is single and admits to being “a night owl,” so his steady tour of 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. suits him. “I can get some sleep after,” he said, “and see friends for lunch if I want and have time to get ready.”

If some think the overnight shift on the Island quiets down during the winter months, they’re mistaken, Officer Graffagnino said, noting that the pandemic changed everything, including a surge in the year-round population.

“We’ve seen a rise in domestic abuse calls and mental health calls,” he said, “which can come any hour of the day or night.”

There’s also been an increase of regular police work in the wee hours, such as people needing assistance in many ways, including “helping them get off the ground or floor if they’ve fallen.”

And bringing a 7-day-old girl back to life.