Two little girls were settling in for a tea party last March, eager for the giggles, cup clinks and snacks that usually accompany playtime.
Samantha Kelley, then 8, walked to the DVD player in her Puyallup bedroom so SpongeBob SquarePants could join the party. She reeled off a joke. Her friend Tara popped a tangelo in her mouth.
Until Samanthas voice broke the quiet, repeatedly asking her friend what was wrong. There was no answer.
Tara wasnt breathing, and was bent over, grabbing at her throat.
I was so scared because I didnt know what was happening to her, Samantha recalled this week. Then I remembered the Heimlich.
For Samanthas life-saving skills, she will be one of 10 people and one dog honored this morning at the American Red Cross Mount Rainier Chapters 19th Annual Heroes Breakfast. She will be presented the Isaac Mattich Star of Courage Award.
The spunky brunette, now 9, is sure this is the start of stardom. Or at least a precursor to her dream job of being a veterinarian. Shes already pleading with her mom, Linda Kelley, to teach her CPR.
It was Kelley who taught her daughter how to perform the abdominal thrusts three years ago.
Kelley has a medical condition that causes her to choke easily. When she saw how much Samantha worried about her at the dinner table, she decided to teach her daughter what to do in an emergency.
Saving Tara was the first time Samantha put her lessons to use, but shes sure she could do it again.
Again and again and again, she said. And Ill teach it to my grandkids.
The girl is keeping her skills honed by practicing on a giant teddy bear.
Samantha said she was scared when her friend choked too scared to remember the joke that started the incident. Shes sure it was funny though.
Kelley smiles and affectionately shakes her head as she listens to her daughter recount what happened that day.
She was downstairs, watching the news. She could hear the girls playing upstairs. Then she heard Samantha ask Tara what was wrong. She didnt hear Tara reply.
I flew up the stairs, Kelley said. I knew something was wrong.
She found Tara near the top of the stairs, gasping for air and with a chewed tangelo piece in one hand.
Her daughter was much calmer than she was. Kelley kept asking Samantha if she knew what shed done. Samantha nodded yes.
I told her a joke, I made her choke and I almost killed her, so I saved her life, the girl said.
She said shes happy she rescued her friend and former next-door neighbor, but is bummed they dont see each other as much now that the Kelleys moved to another neighborhood.
I thought that if I saved her life, wed be best friends forever, Samantha said.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
The American Red Cross Mount Rainier Chapter will honor these heroes at today’s 19th Annual Heroes Breakfast:
Jeff Wyrwitzke, Bill Dixon and David Elmer, Tacoma Fire Department
The off-duty firefighters were watching the National Championship Air Races in Reno on Sept. 16, 2011, when a plane plunged into the ground, killing the pilot and 10 spectators.
The three did what they’re trained to do: help others in need. They applied tourniquets and loaded victims into helicopters. They held a woman’s hand until she died. They consoled those grieving for lost loved ones.
And they did it without hesitation, about 700 miles from home.
Staff Sgt. Landon Jensen, U.S. Air Force
The woman was so drunk she didn’t seem to realize she had been in a head-on collision and her car was on fire.
Jensen hopped off his motorcycle and worked with another passerby to pull the woman from the wreckage through the passenger door.
He then rushed to the other vehicle to check on the others.
The six-year veteran downplayed his role in the rescue, saying anyone can display the courage needed to save a life.
Madison, an American Dingo
The dog growled a warning to her owner seconds before three raccoons darted out of the bushes and attacked Michaela Lee’s legs, knocking her to the ground.
Madison’s menacing snarls scared the critters off and gave Lee a chance to escape.
Lee, treated for 16 puncture wounds after the attack at Fort Steilacoom Park, isn’t sure where she’d be without her faithful pup.
Matthew Fleming, Tacoma Fire Department
He tied a rope to his waist and dived into the cold waters of Commencement Bay with a life ring in his hand.
Fleming knew the fire rescue boat was five minutes away but didn’t think the man struggling to stay afloat could hang on that long. The man had been clinging to a life vest for a long time while his son-in-law swam to shore to discard his heavy boots and extra clothing.
Firefighters kept the son-in-law on shore while Fleming cut through the water and pulled the man to safety, and to his son-in-law’s arms.
Senior Airman Andrew Moser and 1st Class Airman Micah Myers, U.S. Air Force
It was an instant decision to make a U-turn when they drove past a man who suddenly collapsed on Bridgeport Way in Lakewood.
Moser recognized the man was having a seizure and set to work stabilizing him. He kept him calm when the man awoke and grabbed him out of fear, unsure of where he was or what was happening.
Myers spoke soothingly and helped bundle him in a jacket to keep him warm until paramedics arrived.
Margaret Anderson and Nick Hall, Mount Rainier rangers
The Red Cross’ highest award – the Marvin Klegman Memorial Award – is being given to two rangers who died protecting the public.
Anderson was fatally shot Jan. 1 after setting up a roadblock to prevent a gunman from reaching the Paradise area. The 34-year-old wife and mother of two didn’t know the details of the call she responded to, but her commitment to protecting park visitors never wavered.
Hall died June 21 rescuing climbers who had fallen into a crevasse while returning from the summit. As he helped secure a climber to be lifted into a helicopter, Hall slipped and fell more than 3,700 feet down the glacier.
At 34, Hall had been a climbing ranger for four years, and family members said he was living his dream.