Walsh Elementary Paraprofessional Jen Kerrigan Saves Kindergartener from Choking, Receives Red Cross Lifesaving Award

The American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley was proud to present Jennifer Kerrigan with a Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action and a Red Cross Lifesaving pin for her heroic actions in the face of an emergency.

Executive Director Brian McDaniel presenting the award to Jennifer Kerrigan at Walsh Elementary

Jen Kerrigan has been a special education paraprofessional at Walsh Elementary School in Lockport, IL for over 7 years and easily develops close bonds with many of the children who attend. She oversees them in the classroom environment and also during non-classroom times like lunch in the school gym.

On January 18, 2022 Jen was watching students finish eating and encouraging them to line up to get ready for the next part of their day when she noticed a kindergartener in distress. In his rush to finish eating a bagel, he started choking on a piece of the bread.

Jen says she could see the fear in his eyes and immediately knew what to do. She was by his side in a moment and asked if he was OK, to which he shook his head “no,” and Jen gently picked him up and started doing back blows to dislodge what was in his throat.

It took several back blows and at least three abdominal thrusts but Jen was able to save the child from choking. Everyone was relieved to see the boy calming down and breathing thanks to Jen’s quick actions in both seeing him in trouble and doing something about it.

This was not the first time Jen stepped in to help a student choking. In 2018, she also saved a different young boy with special needs who had been choking on a taco. Again, even without any verbal cues she knew something was wrong and immediately took action.

In both instances, it took a combination of Jen knowing what to do and first recognizing what was happening even in challenging circumstances involving small children and a student with special needs. Jen says even when there is no verbal communication, sometimes you just know something is wrong and know you need to do something.

As someone who is surrounded by kids all day, she says its important to have those skills whether you’re around kids or not. She remembers taking the courses but its become more of an instinct she’s developed from years of supervising kids and having her own special needs son who passed away 18 years ago. She took trainings and learned skills from CPR to knowing what to do when someone is choking and more. Now, she’s the one you’d want to have around no matter what happens.

In the surprise presentation, both boys she saved were there to see her receive the award and be reunited with Jen who shed a few tears. For her, it’s just part of the job.

“I’m grateful that I can be calm about it,” Jen said. “To me, it’s all in a day’s work. If I can help you I’m all about it.”

Since the incident in January, bagels have been removed from the school’s lunch menu.

Jen truly embodies the mission and values of the American Red Cross, which has awarded over 1,800 individuals with Lifesaving Awards.

Learn how to save a life with Red Cross Training Classes: www.redcross.org/takeaclass

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Holly Baker