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Youth saves life of woman who saved him years earlier Stunning event had odd sense of balance

Kevin Stephan always wanted to find the right way to thank the off-duty nurse who got his 11-year-old heart beating again after a baseball bat struck him in the chest in 1999.

Nine days ago, the now-17-year-old Kevin found the perfect way to thank Penny Brown.

He returned the life-saving favor, rushing out of a Depew restaurant kitchen to administer the Heimlich maneuver as Brown choked on her lunch.

In a sense, Brown saved Kevin's life -- so he could help save hers.

Initially, he didn't even know the woman he helped on the afternoon of Jan. 27 was the nurse who saved his life on a baseball diamond 6 1/2 years earlier.

Kevin's mother -- who happened to be in the restaurant that afternoon -- was the first to realize the link between the two events.

"Oh, my goodness," Lorraine Stephan told Brown. "You saved my son's life seven years ago, and now he's saved yours."

It's a pair of incidents that, by comparison, would make a pair of lightning strikes in the same spot seem highly probable. And a pair of events that would be described as too hokey, if you saw it on a TV show.

"Wow. I couldn't believe it," said Kevin, now a senior at Lancaster High School. "Everyone I have told is like, 'No way.' They're in total disbelief."

While neither Kevin nor Brown sought publicity for their actions, they both wanted to emphasize the need for people to be prepared -- to learn CPR, the Heimlich maneuver and other life-saving techniques.

"This is the essence of what we're about and what we do," said Nancy M. Blaschak, executive director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. "We teach people to save people's lives, and that's happened."

Blaschak said the Red Cross would love to see one person in each household learn such life-saving measures.

"This helps get our message out, in an extraordinary way," she said.

Like virtually everyone else involved in this story, Kevin, an outgoing teen with a big smile, is at a loss to make any logical sense out of the two events.

But he thinks it's more than a coincidence: "It's one of those things you can't explain. It was meant to happen. I'm Catholic, and I believe the Lord kind of set things up. They say things happen for a reason, and nothing is a coincidence."

His mother added, "I believe both of these lives were touched by the hand of God."

Brown, an intensive-care nurse at Buffalo General Hospital, said she can't think too long about the two incidents "without being freaked" by it.

"It's almost impossible to believe, but I'm very appreciative of what occurred," she added. "One good turn deserves another."

The first life-saving incident occurred in July 1999, at a field across from Erie Community College's North campus. Kevin was acting as a batboy for his brother Rob's baseball team.

It was between innings, and Kevin remembers walking into a practice cage near the dugout to pick up some bats. A batter whose back was turned toward Kevin struck him in the chest with his backswing.

"All I remember is getting hit, turning around and walking like two steps back toward the dugout," he said. "And then I remember waking up on my back, with a doctor kneeling over me."

Kevin fell face-first onto the ground. A coach rolled him over, he's been told.

And Brown, the registered nurse, came rushing from the stands to help.

Brown saw that Kevin was starting to have a seizure and was in cardiac arrest. She smacked him once on the chest, hard.

"It didn't really work, so I started CPR," she said.

He quickly began breathing. After several hours in the hospital, he was cleared and sent home.

Lorraine Stephan remembers the enormity of the situation finally hitting home for her and her husband, Gregory.

"Later that night, after we came home and the children were in bed, we both broke down, realizing that we almost lost our child," she said.

Fast-forward to nine days ago.

Kevin, who was working only because it was Regents week and he had no school, began his dish-washing shift at about 7 a.m.

Around 2 p.m., Lorraine Stephan recognized the Brown family. Minutes later, she looked up to see Penny Brown in distress, her hands to her throat as she struggled to get air while choking.

Lorraine Stephan jumped to her feet and shouted for the fry cooks to get her son out in the dining room immediately. The manager, knowing that Kevin is a Bowmansville volunteer firefighter, also summoned him.

Kevin ran out, saw a waitress trying to do the Heimlich and realized the woman was choking.

"I got behind her and started to do the Heimlich, and after two thrusts, the food came out into her hand," he said.

So, it turns out, in yet another curiosity, both rescue efforts succeeded on their second tries.

As he realized what he had done, Kevin heard the punchline from his mother.

"That was Mrs. Brown," she told him. "That was the lady who saved you."

Then Kevin walked back into the kitchen to resume washing dishes.

His quick action showed Kevin that you never know when you're going to use a life-saving technique: "I didn't wake up that morning and say, 'I'm going to do the Heimlich today.' "

Anyone who knows Kevin, a member of Boy Scout Troop 601 and the Bowmansville Fire Department Explorer Post 56, isn't surprised by his actions.

"He's very mature for his age, a quick thinker and quick to act," said fellow firefighter Dan Curtis.

One of Kevin's Scout leaders, Gerald E. Robert of Boy Scout Troop 601, called it the most amazing story he has heard in 30 years of scouting.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," Robert said, "and this proves it."

Not long after the Jan. 27 incident at the restaurant, Kevin called Dan Curtis to thank him for teaching him the right way to perform such life-saving techniques a few years ago.

"Life is extremely valuable, and you don't always get a second chance," Curtis said of Kevin's actions. "What a way to be able to say thank you to someone."

News Staff Reporter Dan Herbeck contributed to this story.


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