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A lesson well learned brings two boys fame

TV news cameras roll as the third-graders are honored for handling the emergency when one choked on a french fry.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Truth be told, the presence of television cameras was more compelling to the third-grade students at Bay Point Elementary Magnet School than the solemnity of the moment honoring two classmates, Adam Christner and Serrell Rollins.

The boys have been the focus of media attention ever since March 28 when Adam, 8, performed the Heimlich maneuver on Serrell, 9, while he choked on a french fry in the school cafeteria.

On Tuesday, Doug Lewis and Todd Livingston, Emergency Medical Services officers with St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, presented an award to Adam in recognition of his quick thinking and calm response to a crisis. Several television stations showed up to record the ceremony.

"This was significant," said Lewis, EMS Rescue Division chief. "Most children don't know CPR. The Heimlich takes a lot of strength."

The Heimlich is an emergency technique used to dislodge an object from the windpipe. Third- grade teacher Candi Wilson had taught the technique to her students several months ago.

"I have a phobia about choking," she said. "I go wacko when they suck on their marker tops."

Adam and Serrell, who have been good friends for almost two years, had sat side by side during lunch that day when Adam said Serrell started choking.

"It felt painful," Serrell said.

"The first time I tried the Heimlich, it didn't work," Adam said. "But then I did it again and the french fry popped out."

"I owe him my life," Serrell said.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle asked rhetorically, 23 centuries ago, "What soon grows old? Gratitude."

The boys were asked: Has Adam's gift to Serrell disrupted the balance of their friendship?

"No," Adam said.

"We're just buddies being buddies," Serrell said.

"I feel good," Adam added. "I feel like how gentle life can be."

Bay Point principal Gaye Lively said the experience "reinforces that positive things get attention and recognition."

Both boys have been lauded for their behavior during the emergency.

"Serrell was the one who remembered what to do," said Adam's mother, Tracy Christner. "He didn't panic and made the symbol for choking."

Officers Lewis and Livingston used the occasion to remind the students of basic safety techniques such as dialing 911 if someone is injured. When Lewis called for questions about CPR, one student asked, "Are we going to be on TV?" with the follow-up from another student: "When will we be on TV?"

But the students were also mindful of their two peers' performances under duress. Adam and Serrell were given extended applause at the ceremony's conclusion.

Nick Dawson, 9, said, "It's really cool to have famous classmates."

Officer Livingston said french fry safety has not been incorporated into their program, but advised students "to chew a lot and don't talk with your mouth full."

Lewis said, "And buy smaller french fries." That advice is not as relevant for Serrell Rollins and Adam Christner as it once was.

"He doesn't eat french fires anymore," Adam said of his friend.

"Well just not right now. I don't know about forever," Serrell said.

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