Heroes don’t exist everywhere, everyday but they can spring up anywhere, anytime. One of them could even be you. Eighteen hundred grade-ten students learned this lesson last week at a joyous assembly in a Pittsburgh school auditorium. Two of their classmates, 15-year-old Parker and Walter, had played real-life roles of survivor and hero in a fateful disastrous instant in October.
The Fateful Event
- The two best friends were sitting side by side on a bleacher in the local skate park on a Saturday morning. Suddenly Parker turned to Walter and said, “My heart stopped.” When he dropped his phone and collapsed onto the concrete below Walter knew he wasn’t joking.
- He screamed his head off for help from bystanders and a call was made to 911. Walter told the dispatcher Parker’s nose and lips were blue and the dispatcher said he needed CPR right away. Walter said, “I can do that. I learned it in health class last year.”
- For 10 minutes he gave Parker CPR and kept talking to him until the police and emergency workers arrived and took over. With Parker on a stretcher and Walter in a panic, the ambulance carried them off.
- En route Walter phoned his father who rushed to join him at the hospital. Parker was induced into a coma and airlifted to a trauma center. Walter wanted to go with his friend but a nurse convinced him he had done all he could. His father dropped him off at his mother’s to find consolation.
- With the help of surgery to attach an AED (automated electronic defibrillator), and rest, Parker recovered and was back at school within weeks. His heart is strong; the cause of his cardiac arrest is unknown. He looks forward to resuming playing soccer.
- Emergency workers and police at the scene and doctors and nurses at the hospital showered praise on Walter for his presence of mind under pressure and trying circumstances.
- Teacher John Valvala who had taught him CPR was “thrilled” by what Walter had done, thanked and congratulated him.
- The chief of the Allegheny County Police department saw this as a chance to show heart and strengthen community. It could be used to inspire other teenagers to play the important bystander role which is as vital as any other to a patient’s survival.
- He announced in January that Walter would receive a Citizen Service Award. The commendation ceremony would be at the school in co-operation with everyone else who had been involved.
- This event would attract the attention of the community through the media. It was a rare opportunity to put the police in a good light, pointing out what people do that is right, not just what they do that is wrong.
- The St. Clair hospital announced it would give Walter a Health Hero Award at the same ceremony.
The Heroic Drama & Inspiration
- It was an exceedingly happy, inspiring occasion. A roar of thunderous applause and cheers went up from the student body and family members as police and doctors presented the awards and shoulder patches.
- Parker and Walter modestly thanked everyone else, from friends to GoFund donors, in their speeches.
- Audience happiness got noisier with each inspiring speech aimed at them. It was deafening when the three personal wellness (health) teachers were called up on stage.
- Police superintendent Coleman McDonough said Walter’s extraordinary act “changed his life forever and changed all of us. One person who is here wouldn’t be.”
- “It is important for all of you to see one of your peers being honored. It was a service rendered to the citizens of the county. His actions are a credit to himself and all citizens,” McDonough said.
- Surgeon Kevin Friend said he had been inspired to go into medicine after a classmate saved his life by applying the Heimlich maneuver. He choked on a hot dog he was eating while exerting himself as the anchor man in a school tug of war contest. Ironically, up until then he didn’t like the boy who saved him — they had a crush on the same girl.
- Assistant principal Lesnett got the last round of applause as he challenged the students to “Be alert. A moment can make a difference. You can make a difference. Don’t just let things happen.”
Follow-up for Walter
- I had a front seat at this milestone event for our family. We have been fractured by divorce proceedings for four years. This proud happy occasion brought both sides together unexpectedly.
- Stepbrother Derek joked with brother Robert (both older than Walter), “You and I are just ‘the other brothers’ now”.
- Father Leslie said, “I think I deserve a little bit of the credit here. I always told my boys to listen to what their teachers said.”
- Two years ago Walter started an entertaining YouTube channel of videos about “whatever interests me.” It has a growing following among his peers. His ambition is to become an actor or film director. He is a good enough student to take any direction he chooses. But, most of all, he wants to make people laugh.
- Thank you, Walter. You have succeeded.