This is a story about a unicorn, a little girl who got scary-sick, and a police officer who did his job — and then some.
Most of all, it’s a story about kindness, how precious it is and how, in these especially difficult times, we should never forget how the smallest gesture can have profound impact.
It begins on the snowy evening of Feb. 1, just after dinner in the Merion Park home of Maggie and Chris Corrado. Both are 35. Maggie is an event planner, and Chris works in e-commerce. They both grew up in Lower Merion.
That night, their daughters — Mason, 4, and Amelia, 18 months — were eating the Easy-Bake Oven cake they’d just made with their mom when Mason suddenly felt sick. Chris took her into the bathroom, only to summon Maggie a minute later. Mason was talking oddly, he said.
Soon, Mason wasn’t talking at all, just staring blankly toward a wall.
“I was calling, ‘Mason! Mason!’ and she was not answering. I looked her straight in the eye. She was not there,” Maggie said. “I called 911. I was hysterical.”
As the Corrados waited anxiously for help to arrive, Lower Merion police officer Michael Aluise, 37, who was just starting his shift, heard a radio call for an unconscious 4-year-old.
“I might get six or seven medical calls a shift,” Aluise said later, “but when you see that it’s an unconscious child, you act differently, you respond differently.”
The roads were treacherous, but Aluise got to the Corrado home quickly. Inside, he assessed Mason. She was staring blankly and wasn’t moving. But she was breathing. She was alive.
“It appeared to me she was deep in a seizure,” Aluise said. “Her hands were kicking a bit, like little tiny flickers of her fingers, and the blank stare, and she was not verbal, like she was frozen where she was.”
Soon, officers Ethan Gerstman and Steve Patton arrived with oxygen, which they administered to Mason as they monitored her vital signs. Sgt. Matthew Colflesh came, too.
Maggie would later remark how professional and gentle the officers were. But the ordeal was terrifying.
“My husband went upstairs with Amelia, and she was screaming, ‘Mama! Mama!’” Maggie said. “He was upstairs crying, and I was downstairs crying.”
Aluise was waiting for the OK to carry Mason to the ambulance, but he saw the fear in Maggie’s face.
“Sometimes when I meet people in a certain situation, they don’t necessarily want a cop. They want a parent. We’re human,” Aluise said. “So I said to her, ‘I have five daughters.’ I didn’t need to say anything else.”
And then Aluise, cop and father, scooped Mason into his arms, and he and Maggie ran through the snow to the ambulance. And soon child, mother, and medics were bound for Bryn Mawr Hospital, where medication brought Mason out of her seizure. She was then transferred to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for more care. She was discharged the next afternoon, the cause of her seizure still a mystery that doctors hoped future tests would solve.
Through those 24 hours, Aluise’s simple words — “I have five daughters” — stuck with Maggie. They had been spoken not as an officer to a citizen, but as a parent to a parent.
And the call to the Corrado home stuck with Aluise. When he finished his shift that next morning, he told his wife about it. Among their five daughters are 5-year-old twins. They reminded him of Mason. He thought of Mason waking up in a hospital and figured she must have felt confused and afraid. He thought how hard it had to be for her parents, too.
“I told my wife, ‘I’m going out.’ She, said, ‘For what?’ I said, ‘I’m thinking about this girl.’”
Aluise went to a store. His twins love unicorns, so he picked out a stuffed unicorn and a pretty unicorn blanket he thought Mason might like. It was the first time, as an officer, he had ever done such a thing. And at the start of his next shift, he stopped by the Corrados’ home. Chris came to the door; Maggie and Mason had just gotten home from CHOP and were upstairs resting.
“I told [Chris], ‘I’m thinking about Mason and about you guys. Here’s something for when she’s up and about,’” said Aluise. “‘I just want to let you know that [police officers] are human, too. We have families; we understand. If you ever need anything, you can call. We’ll always come, and we’ll do the best we can.’”
He then resumed his shift. It didn’t occur to him to tell anyone on the job what he had done.
Mason instantly fell in love with her unicorn, naming it Poppy. And her parents were so touched by Aluise’s kindness that Maggie posted about it on the Facebook page of the Lower Merion Community Network.
Within hours, the likes and the comments were pouring in. A local television station even came out to interview Maggie.
Aluise, who is in his sixth year in the department, isn’t on social media, so he was surprised when friends alerted him to the post and the public reaction to it.
And though he and most officers don’t seek credit for what they do day-to-day, he said, he thinks it’s good for people to have a fuller view of police officers.
“I love my job, but at the end of the day, it’s my job,” said Aluise. “I am not a police officer first. We are husbands, fathers, mothers, wives. That’s why we react certain ways to calls. It’s really not necessarily the policeman in you. It’s who we really are that comes out. It was good for people to see that.”
Maggie Corrado’s post, which stirred such community appreciation, says it best:
“Thank you, Officer Aluise. While the unicorn-themed present certainly made my daughter’s night, for us it was a reminder that for all this madness out there, there is also kindness. And a simple act of kindness during such an awful time is incredibly powerful.”
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