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Rockwood Valley Student Uses Health Class Training to Aid Classmate in Distress

May 15, 2023

 A Rockwood student and his teacher smile in a hallway in their school.It was near the end of a lunch shift on a recent Friday when Rockwood Valley Principal Dr. Karen Hedrick noticed a student in distress.

The student was standing and making the “choking” sign. She started moving in that direction but, before she got there, student Wiley Keel sprang into action. He applied the Heimlich maneuver to his friend and, within two abdominal thrusts, the piece of food had dislodged from his friend’s throat.

The entire process, from recognition to the ejection of the food, took about 20 seconds.

“I feel like the right person was there in the right moment to help that student,” Hedrick said. “I’m so proud of him and so grateful for Wiley.”

The student thanked Keel, then was taken to the nurse’s office and sent home for the rest of the day as a precaution. Their fellow classmates applauded Keel and congratulated him for taking such swift, decisive action.

Keel said he didn’t have much time to think in the moment, so he just reacted. One of the first things that popped into his mind was Heimlich training from his physical education/health class with teacher Christine Brown the year prior.

“It just came to me. All I remembered was, when you’re wrapping around the waist, grab your wrist, take the thumb and jab it up,” Keel said. “I just knew I needed to do it right the first time. My parents always tell me that with chores.”

Brown said she was in her car when she got a call from Hedrick that Friday afternoon.

“I actually teared up and started crying in the car. It was a really neat feeling,” Brown said. “When we practice it, I specifically say, ‘Do you want the first time you do this to be the real thing?’ It makes me really proud and makes me feel like I did my job and that Wiley is just a really awesome kid.”

Brown said part of the Heimlich training is also teaching students to overcome barriers to acting, such as fear and uncertainty in a situation. In Keel’s mind, his biggest fear was not doing something to help his friend when he had the opportunity.

“I didn’t want anything bad to happen,” Keel said.

Keel said he and his friend still talk about the incident, nearly a month later. His friend often expresses gratitude for Keel’s actions.

And Keel is grateful for the training he learned in Brown’s class.

“Ms. Brown is a phenomenal health teacher and so passionate about the value of that learning over anything else for our kids, and it showed,” Hedrick said. “You never know what seed you plant and when it might impact a life. You talk about impacting a couple of lives, there it is.”

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