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Media come to the rescuers Nurse, teen who saved each other draw national attention

Representatives for Oprah, Montel, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Ellen DeGeneres called the two families. So did People magazine and Inside Edition. The National Enquirer even offered to buy the story.

Monday morning, Penny Brown, a nurse, and Kevin Stephan, a teenage volunteer firefighter, sat on a sofa in Buffalo General Hospital and repeated their story for crews from CNN, Fox News, CBS' "The Early Show" and ABC's "Good Morning America."

The whole nation wants to hear more about how Brown, a Buffalo General Hospital nurse, and Kevin, a 17-year-old Bowmansville firefighter, saved each others' lives 6 1/2 years apart.

After Kevin was struck by a batter's backswing at a baseball game in July 1999, Brown used a quick blow to his chest and cardiopulmonary resuscitation to get his heart going again.

Defying all odds, he returned the favor Jan. 27, performing the Heimlich maneuver on Brown when she choked on some food in the Depew restaurant where he works.

"The response has been unbelievable," Brown said Monday, after calls from about 50 news organizations, talk shows and magazines.

"I can't believe this is happening," Kevin added. "This is so cool."

Even his Lancaster High School classmates reacted Monday, following the story Sunday in The Buffalo News:

"I walked into one class, and everybody started clapping."

Even though Brown knew this was an extraordinary story, at first she wanted to stay low-key about her role. But she agreed to talk about it, both out of gratitude toward Kevin and to highlight the life-saving techniques the two had used.

"The fact that I performed CPR and he did the Heimlich, two life-saving techniques, if word gets out, it can only help everyone," she said.

>Calls flood phone lines

She also knew why the story created such a national stir.

"In a world where there's kind of a lot of bad things going on, it's a positive story, uplifting, and it's good to be part of it," she added.

"As soon as this dies down, as I'm sure it will in a day or two, I'll have a chance to reflect on the odds of each of us being there for the other. Either of us could have died, and we didn't. It's a happy story."

No one can figure the odds of this happening, especially in such a large community.

"When I first heard this story, I got the chills," said Michael P. Hughes, a Kaleida Health spokesman. "You think this would happen in Smalltown, U.S.A., population 500, but it happened in Erie County, with a 1 million population. It's truly remarkable that their paths crossed again."

When calls swamped both families' phone lines and the Buffalo General Hospital switchboard over the weekend, the families had theirs rerouted to Hughes.

Hughes says he thinks the national story has a benefit for Western New York and the whole life-saving community.

"It shows that Buffalo is a warm city, and it reflects well on both Kevin and Penny and the type of people they are," he said.

Brown has been an intensive-care nurse at Buffalo General for about 20 years, and Kevin, on track to becoming an Eagle Scout, is a volunteer firefighter.

>Another coincidence

Both are routinely involved in life-saving efforts.

Even more remarkably, each rescuer came close to not being there to save the other.

Brown was supposed to be working the afternoon of the baseball game, when her husband, Carl, was coaching and their son Michael was playing on a team with Kevin's brother, Rob. But she wasn't needed at the hospital that day, so she went to the game.

Kevin was working at the restaurant solely because he had no school because of Regents week.

The odds against this are so staggering that some have attributed it to fate, incredible coincidence or God's will. Others simply don't have an answer.

At first, Brown felt unlucky about choking on her lunch.

She since has changed her mind.

"Now I think I'm a really lucky person," she said. "I feel very lucky that someone was there who could perform the Heimlich maneuver on me.

"Good things happen to good people."


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