Courage, kindness celebrated at Heroes Breakfast

12 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Brett Spinning of Presque Isle doesn’t consider himself a hero; however, most everyone else does.
On Feb. 20, 2011, he performed infant CPR to save the life of a little boy who lives in the neighborhood — a selfless act of courage that earned Spinning the title of “Real Hero.”

The 14th annual Real Heroes Breakfast was held last Friday at Northern Maine Community College. Hosted by the American Red Cross—Pine Tree Chapter, WAGM-TV 8/FOX 8 and NMCC, the concept for the Real Heroes Breakfast has grown out of a desire to develop an event that is closely related to the mission of the American Red Cross — teaching people how to save lives.

“The Red Cross provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies,” said Joyce Knorr, Aroostook County branch manager of the American Red Cross—Pine Tree Chapter. “This is done through the simple, yet powerful process of one person putting his/her needs aside to help another. Across the nation, over one million Red Cross volunteers do this each day.
“What better way to celebrate this spirit of humanitarianism than by honoring those individuals who have shown courage, kindness, and unselfish character by their act of heroism in Aroostook County,” she said.
Spinning and his wife, Amy, formerly of Ashland, relocated to Presque Isle after Brett’s retirement as a U.S. Special Agent and Florida state trooper. As he was watching NASCAR’s Daytona 500, he decided to go outside and stretch his legs.
“While I was out there, I heard a very distant scream. I didn’t really know which direction it was coming from so I ran down to a corner of the road and I could see the mother who had come out of her house screaming and she was literally hysterical and had her child in her hands,” said Spinning. “I later figured out she was screaming, ‘My child’s not breathing. Help me, my child’s not breathing.’
“I ran to her faster than I’ve probably ever run in my life. When I got to her, the child was practically thrown into my arms, so I knew right then I needed to do what I needed to do,” he said. “Fortunately through my career I had 17 years of CPR training. As soon as I got the baby, I checked the pulse and there was no breathing or pulse. I immediately used the snow to lower his body temperature to buy time. In Florida, I dealt with a lot of heat strokes and heat-related problems and the first thing you do is cool them down, so it was very similar and having a snowbank right next to you … you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
After doing about two minutes of CPR on the boy, the infant started to breathe.
“He looked me in the eye and he was trying to cry the poor thing,” said Spinning. “After I got him warmed up, the paramedics showed up. It was actually a passerby that called 9-1-1 because we didn’t have a cell phone. The whole thing lasted about 10 minutes; however, the CPR part feels like it lasts forever and a day. Once I handed the boy over to the paramedics, I kind of snuck out and went back into the house to watch the rest of the race.
“I don’t consider myself a hero. To me, our heroes are our soldiers when we’re at war,” Spinning said, noting that he plans to get recertified in both infant and adult CPR. “As far as being there at the right time and having all the training, I’m a religious person and I believe that a higher power was probably involved that day. I think it wasn’t the baby’s time and God made sure of that.”
Jean Poitraw of Ashland saved a woman’s life last July at the Ashland Diner by performing the Heimlich maneuver.
As a grandmother and her 6-year-old grandson were enjoying breakfast and laughing, the woman started to choke and could not breathe. She tried to drink water, but was unable to swallow and get air. As she stood up, Poitraw, who was sitting a couple of tables down, looked at her and asked if she was choking. The grandmother held her throat and shook her head “Yes.” That’s when Poitraw jumped into action.
“I didn’t even think about it. I learned the Heimlich maneuver probably 25 years ago,” she said. “I was on the ambulance service for quite some years and I’m also on the Ashland Fire Department and will have 35 years in this summer, so the training I’ve learned definitely paid off.”
Poitraw rushed over to the grandmother, turned her around and performed the Heimlich maneuver, which dislodged the food stuck in her throat.
“After the woman was OK, I sat down and it was dead silence. Nobody wanted to talk about what had happened. It was kind of like, ‘Wow!’” said Poitraw. “I was shaking. I didn’t even tell my husband about what had happened because I didn’t want to blow my own horn. It was instinct, and I was just glad I was there.
“I was worried about the woman so I called her that afternoon and she said, ‘I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for you,’” recalled Poitraw. “I’m almost embarrassed by the attention; I just like helping people.”
Others recognized as 2012 Real Heroes were:
• Connor David Nicholson of Van Buren, who is credited with helping save his mother’s life.
Last February, Connor’s mother was getting him ready for bed. She asked him to brush his teeth while she let the dogs out one last time for the evening. She fell for no apparent reason and just laughed it off thinking she had made a clumsy move. After bringing the dogs in, she went upstairs to be sure Connor had finished brushing his teeth. As she began to brush her teeth alongside Connor, she passed out. She woke up to her boyfriend holding her in an upright position in the bathroom, but could not recall what had happened. She could feel people carrying her down the stairs but did not understand what was going on. As she became aware of her surroundings, she saw her loved ones around her along with the fear and tears on her little boy’s face. She realized the EMTs were taking her to the hospital emergency room. The mother suffered bad bruising due to having a seizure.
Later on in the days to come, she learned that it was her son who came to her rescue. Her fall that night in the bathroom pinned Connor in the room with her body against the door. Connor found the strength to pull open the door and run to the phone to call for help. Although very frightened, Connor remained calm to seek help and stayed with his mother until help arrived.
“[Receiving this award] makes me really happy because I saved my Mom’s life and that makes me really happy,” the 10-year-old said. “When she realized what I had done, she was really happy and proud of me.
“Everybody I know is saying they saw my picture on TV and it kind of makes me feel like a celebrity,” Nicholson said. “It’s kind of cool.”
• Jeff Stephenson of Mapleton and Bev Cullins of Sherman.
As a local UPS driver, Stephenson had no idea he would use his American Red Cross life-saving training while on the job. While making a routine delivery at Katahdin Elementary School last May, he heard someone yelling to dial 9-1-1. He discovered that the school’s maintenance man had suffered a heart attack and had collapsed. Cullins, the school nurse, had begun CPR treatment. Stephenson rushed over to assist her by helping to perform breathing, compressions and used an AED to save the victim’s life. The victim was rushed to Houlton Regional Hospital and later transferred to Eastern Maine Medical Center. Today the victim is doing well and is very appreciative for their life-saving skills. Had it not been for Stephenson’s and Cullins’ efforts, the victim would have died.
• Andrew Peabody and Wendell Wood, both of Houlton.
Peabody and Wood were traveling back to Houlton from a meeting in Presque Isle one day last May. As they drove past the Blue Moose Restaurant on U.S. Route 1 in Monticello, Peabody spotted someone on an ATV careening down the trail bed and hitting a tree, ejecting the rider onto the railroad tracks and then skidding into an adjacent bog. The rider’s body lay limp and still. Peabody knew it was more than a minor spill and asked Wood, who was driving the car, to slow down and turn around.
Peabody immediately dialed 9-1-1 and while on the phone with the emergency responder, got out of the car with Wood and ran to the spot of the accident to describe the scene. The injured woman was barely conscious and laboring hard. Her leg was pushed up and out in an unnatural way leading Peabody to believe she had suffered a compound fracture. Her entire body was positioned in an “inhumanly-like fashion” and he could see a laceration up to her breastbone. Peabody realized she was in serious condition. The 9-1-1 responder coached them and told them not to move her, but to keep talking with her to keep her conscious as long as possible.
The two men found a blanket to cover her and continued talking to her until the Houlton EMS arrived. The victim was on a ventilator for weeks suffering a broken leg and several ribs, and had severe cuts to her abdomen and other internal injuries. She was in rehab for several months. Five months after the accident, Peabody and Wood received a thank-you letter from the victim expressing her gratitude for saving her life.
• Linda Majka, Travis Jones, Tina Jandreau, Jonathan Nadeau and Richard Stoliker, all of Fort Kent, and Curtis Gagnon of Wallagrass.
On a very warm day last July, two Fort Kent women went kayaking along the Fish River from Soldier Pond. Recent heavy rains had swollen the river and the current was strong. At the portage around the Fish River Falls, one of the women’s kayaks ran into trouble going sideways and flipping over. The other woman, Majka, made it to shore. The rushing current swept the victim into the midst of the falls and pinned her against some rocks, but the current was too strong for her to make it to shore. Majka was able to get a lifejacket to the victim. She then ran up the trail to Jandreau’s house. Jandreau’s son, Travis Jones, grabbed a rope and drove with Majka back to the trailhead while Jandreau called 9-1-1.
Firefighters Stoliker and Nadeau received the call from the Fort Kent dispatcher and headed to the falls. Jones threw the rope to the victim, but she was unable to use it. He kept the victim calm while additional help was arriving. When Stoliker arrived, he tied a loop into the rope and threw it back to the victim and she was able to put the rope around herself. The victim was beginning to exhaust and feel pain since it had been nearly 30 minutes of holding onto the rock and fighting the current. Stoliker then laid out on another rock close by, having Nadeau hold his legs. Firefighter Gagnon arrived at the scene and held onto Nadeau’s legs forming a human chain. Stoliker asked the victim to let him know when she was ready to let go and reassured her they would hold on to her. When the victim did let go, the current immediately grabbed her through the falls. Stoliker was wondering if someone would need to come rescue the rescue workers, but he suddenly found the strength to pull the victim through the water towards the rock he was on comparing it to the hysterical strength described in stories he had read about in other dramatic rescues.
Stoliker and Nadeau reached over and pulled her up by her lifejacket and stayed with her on the rock until she had enough strength to stand. They helped her across the rocks and made their way up the trail. The woman was treated for scrapes, cuts and bruises to her legs. According to Fire Chief Dave Pelletier, “The rescue was a heroic effort beyond the call of duty.” Each one of these players helped save the life of the victim that day.
• Tom and Judy Deschaine of Presque Isle.
A Massachusetts man came to Aroostook County last fall looking to provide a better life for his family. He contacted Tom to inquire about a job and Tom hired him for temporary, seasonal work. As time went by, Tom learned that the man, his wife and five children were living in a tent. They were using coolers for refrigeration and sleeping bags for beds. The family had been reaching out to seek temporary assistance until they could afford a place to live, but were unsuccessful.
As the weather turned colder, the children’s school teachers discovered the family’s living conditions were not adequate and they provided the family with a voucher for a temporary stay at a local hotel. Realizing it would be the legal duty of the teachers to notify Department of Health and Human Services of the inadequate living conditions of the family with a possibility of having the children separated from the parents, Tom and Judy offered their home as a safe haven for the family for over a week.
In addition, they helped gather clothing, food and toys. Tom contacted a local construction company asking them to consider hiring the man full-time, which they did. At that point, the man was gainfully qualified for housing. Tom and Judy helped the family locate in Fort Fairfield. Their coordination and outreach started the ball rolling with community members stepping up to the plate to help the family establish a home and furnishings for their children. Along with Tom, Judy and community members, this family was blessed with a very special Christmas and is now self-sufficient.
• OfficeMax in Caribou received the Extra Mile Award for ensuring the mission of the Red Cross is met.
OfficeMax has generously supported the American Red Cross in Aroostook County for over three years by providing printing services, office paper and supplies which have saved the Red Cross thousands of dollars. The printing services have included preparing disaster relief training materials for over 100 individuals for the 2010 Disaster Training Institute, education and awareness information; letterhead, fund-raising posters, and many other much needed materials which help the Red Cross meet its mission, as well as amplify its available services.
This past year, OfficeMax supported the Aroostook County Branch office with numerous flyers, posters, office supplies, printed materials for fund-raising efforts — all at no cost, saving nearly $2,000 and they even delivered. Employees at OfficeMax are true partners of the American Red Cross. Their “what can we do to help you” spirit is unsurpassed in supporting the training and fund-raising efforts of the Red Cross.
• Loring Job Corps Center in Limestone which also received an Extra Mile Award.
For the past five years, Loring Job Corps Center has been a major partner with the American Red Cross in Aroostook County. This partnership has been of the utmost value to both organizations. The students and staff at Loring Job Corps always go above and beyond when providing help and service to the American Red Cross.
In January 2008, the Red Cross moved from their Presque Isle office of 60 years to Caribou. The Job Corps students and staff willfully cleaned out the basement of old computer equipment, materials and other items that had accumulated over the years and disposed of them. They even cleaned out an old storage shed and when it came time to move to the new location, they arrived with smiles and muscle power to transport boxes and equipment on a cold, snowy winter day.
In the spring of 2008, northern Aroostook and other areas of The County experienced a devastating flood. Once again, Loring Job Corps students and staff stepped up to the plate to volunteer their services as trained disaster assessment and casework volunteers along with continuous office support in response to the tremendous needs of our friends and neighbors affected by floodwaters.
Last January, the Red Cross once again faced the obstacle of having to move its office. Although challenged with having to seek out another affordable location and realizing the major expense of having to rent a truck and pay for help, Loring Job Corps students and staff were there to ease the burden for the Red Cross. The students and staff enthusiastically came with a truck on moving day to transport heavy desks, file cabinets, and the many other heavy items to the new upstairs office in the Caribou Office Park. Not only were these students polite and well mannered, but their teamwork was amazing to observe. The students were extremely professional and cooperative with Red Cross staff and with each other.
Loring Job Corps Center has been an esteemed partner of the Red Cross because of their commitment to its mission to help provide relief to victims of disaster and helping people to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. The center has helped the Red Cross save thousands of dollars with their in-kind support over the years.
The family of the late Jared Voisine, 29, of Frenchville, was also recognized at the breakfast for honoring his wishes to be an organ donor. Proud to be a donor, which can be done by ensuring the organ donor symbol is marked on a driver’s license, Voisine died in a car accident Oct. 30, 2011. Only a four-hour window was available to get the needed organs to the recipients, which was a massive effort. Today, a 63-year-old man has a healthy, beating heart; a 66-year-old man has healthy lungs; a 58-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman have working kidneys; and a 14-year-old boy has a healthy liver. Voisine’s cornea, skin, bone and other tissue will be processed and used at a later time to help heal others.
For the 11th time, Rene Cloukey, sports director at WAGM-TV, was the master of ceremonies.
Proceeds from the Real Heroes Breakfast will benefit the local Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. More than 225 people attended the breakfast making it a record-breaking year.