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Never Quit winners who learned CPR just in case save two students from choking

Never Quit winners who learned CPR just in case save two students from choking
By Anna Dang ·

There wasn’t a moment to spare when AFSCME Local 581 (Council 94) members Bobby Santos and Bonnie Dion each applied the Heimlich maneuver this school year to save the lives of children who couldn’t breathe.

It was lunch time at Guiteras Elementary School in Bristol, Rhode Island, where Santos was on duty in October as a custodial maintenance worker. Suddenly, he heard a staff member tell him to call 911 because a student was choking. He knew that could take too much time, so he intervened.

“The only thing that was going in my mind was that I could help this kid survive,” Santos said. “It was a good 60 seconds before he started breathing again, and after that it was amazing. Since then, he’s been a good friend of mine.”

Dion, a teacher’s assistant for kindergarteners at Hugh Cole Elementary School in Warren, Rhode Island, experienced the same laser focus last month when she turned around from helping a child open a milk carton and realized the child was choking. She says she sprang into action because she knew how quickly a lack of oxygen can damage a child’s brain.

“I grabbed the girl and she couldn’t talk, so I knew she was choking,” Dion said. “It was just kind of an instinct after that. I don’t even know what was going on around me because I was too concerned with making sure [the lodged food] came out of her mouth.”

Santos and Dion – who both said they learned CPR skills just in case – are winners of AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award, which seeks to recognize public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

Both are graduates of the K-5 schools where they are now employed. Santos and Dion aren’t just showing up to work, though. They’re showing up for the communities they’ve grown up with and continue to raise their families in.

Dion’s daughter is now a faculty member at Hugh Cole, while Santos plans to send his 9-month-old grandson to Guiteras just as he did his son. They continue to be inspired by their love for their own children.

“When my son was younger, I was his football coach and was there for pizza parties and sleepovers,” Santos said. “I just communicate with kids. … If they have issues, they can just talk to me. Overall, I just hope that we’re all here for each other as humans.”

“I consider them as my kids and I treat them just like I treated my own — with respect. I love them all,” Dion said. “I don’t see this as the work of a hero. My job is to keep all the kids safe, and this was part of it.”

Never Quit Service Award

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