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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Local school custodian saves 6-year-old’s life

    The parents of Hope Knoerle personally thanked the man who saved their 6-year-old daughter’s life — and they did it Monday with the help of Normal firefighters and 600 cheering students at Prairieland Elementary School in Normal.

    Hope was eating a hot dog in the cafeteria on March 28 when suddenly she choked and couldn’t breathe. Custodian John Burton hurried to her aid and performed the Heimlich maneuver he had learned in a CPR class at the school.

    Hope didn’t immediately respond. She started turning blue and became unconscious. He picked her up in his arms and ran toward to the office to call an ambulance.

    The combination of the maneuver and his actions carrying her dislodged the food and cleared the airway. Her color returned and she breathed normally.

    “”I was scared. I’m happy I’m alive,”” Hope said.

    Hope’s mother, Dana Knoerle, later contacted the Normal Fire Department to ask if he could be honored, and Monday the department’s education officer, Matt Swaney, presented Burton with a Life Saving Award. Uniformed Normal firefighters stood on stage with Burton and Hope for the presentation during the assembly.

    “”It shows you how one person can make a difference and save a life,”” Swaney said.

    “”In a choking emergency such as this one, every second that the body is deprived of oxygen is another second closer to permanent brain damage and even death. Your quick thinking and lifesaving reaction prevented a tragic situation from occurring and saved a life. This little lady is alive today because of your actions,”” Swaney told Burton.

    Swaney also taught the students how to recognize if someone is choking.

    “”Maybe you can save a life someday too,”” he told the students.

    Hope’s mother, Dana Knoerle, a Fieldcrest Elementary South School second-grade teacher, was in class in Minonk when she got a phone call about what happened. She talked to her daughter on the phone immediately after the incident.

    She said Hope told her, “”Mommy, come to get me. I’m scared.””

    Her mother hurried from her school to get her daughter, and they next day she explained to her students what happened.

    The assembly’s purpose was a surprise for Burton. Prairieland Principal Carmen Bergmann said she only warned him 10 minutes in advance because “”he is so modest.””

    Burton still was a little embarrassed about all the attention.

    “”Anyone would have done the same thing,”” he said.

    The Normal-based Unit 5 school district also will honor him at the April 27 school board meeting, said district spokeswoman Dayna Brown.

    Recalling the incident, Burton said, “”It all happened so quick.”” He didn’t see anything but Hope in distress.

    When he was asked later how the other children reacted, he said he didn’t know because he was focused only Hope.

    “”I ran right past the principal and didn’t even see her,”” he said.

    As for seeing Hope in much better circumstances after Monday’s ceremony, Burton said, “”It’s nice to see her smile.””

    The ceremony brought Burton and Hope’s father, Mike Knoerle, together for the first time. Knoerle shook Burton’s hand while Hope’s mother hugged Burton again.

    “”You never think it would be your child that this would happen to,”” Mike Knoerle said, adding that it’s hard to think about what would have happened if Burton had not been there.

    “”There’s not enough thanks in the world,”” the relieved father said with his younger son, Jace, 4, at his side and his arm around Hope.

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