HomePalmyra NewsCharles Street School’s nonchalant hero honored for saving choking classmate

Charles Street School’s nonchalant hero honored for saving choking classmate

Unbeknownst to his parents or the school for weeks, student Carter Priest saved a classmate in the cafeteria

Photo courtesy of Ron Priest

It was an act of valor that went unnoticed in the lunchroom of Charles Street School in September, or maybe it was early November? Nine-year-old Carter Priest, who performed the Heimlich maneuver on classmate Justin Smyth, can’t remember exactly.

Noticing Justin was being unusually quiet and turning red, Carter saved his life by using what he learned in an assembly nearly a year ago: He wrapped arms around Justin’s waist, made a fist with his thumb against the upper abdomen and thrusted until the bread in Justin’s trachea was dislodged.

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What followed was not a visit to the nurse, nor a stampede of concerned adults and classmates rushing to Justin’s aid. In fact, no one but the two boys would know what happened that day for the next few weeks.

“I didn’t really know what to do, so I just didn’t say anything. Justin said, ‘Thank you,’ and that’s it,” Carter said, apparently unfazed by the magnitude of his actions.

Weeks later, while the Priest family was a friend’s house watching an Eagles game, Carter’s father, Ron, said Carter casually revealed the incident when he overheard someone talking about choking. Shocked, Ron, a fireman and EMT in Willingboro, quizzed Carter to see if he was telling the truth.

“I asked him to show me what he did when he saw Justin choking, and he did the right thing. It happened, and they must have just gone back to having lunch,” Ron said, laughing.

Ron quickly phoned the Smyths to see if Justin could corroborate the story, and the two boys’ reports were identical. Justin, afraid he would be in trouble for eating too fast and talking with his mouth full, conveniently neglected to tell his parents.

“I was talking, and I was making a joke to my other friend next to me, and we were actually talking about choking. It was very weird,” Justin recalled. “I breathed in my sandwich by accident. I turned to my other friend, and he thought I was joking because we were just talking about that. But then I turned to Carter, and he knew what to do.”

The next call Ron made was to CSS to inform them of the incident, and that Carter had known what to do thanks to the assembly where Principal Ron Pease demonstrated how to perform the Heimlich. Shortly after, Carter came home with news that he would be honored by Mayor Michelle Arnold, EMS Chief Dan Norman, Pease, DSO Richard Dreby and SRO Omar Kendall with proclamations, certificates and T-shirts at the Dec. 1 Student Recognition Assembly.

Carter, still seemingly underwhelmed about what transpired in the lunchroom that day, said he “doesn’t mind” the attention he has received from classmates, community members and borough and school officials.

“It was kind of exciting, I didn’t know why the mayor was there,” he said. “It makes me feel good.”

Ron, though extremely proud of his son, is a little peeved that he wasn’t the one who taught Carter the Heimlich, he joked. Along with his wife, a nurse, the Priests have high hopes for Carter to join in the family tradition of providing medical assistance.

Beth Smyth, Justin’s mother, said she was amazed and grateful that Carter took notice of her son’s plea for help. The fact that no one else realized Justin was in danger is not lost on his parents.

“We have always liked Carter, and now we know he’s good in a crisis, too. We’re so proud of him, he’s our hero,” Beth said. “We were really, really luck to have him there.”

As for the the two boys, who have been friends and soccer teammates for some time, it’s business as usual.

“Nothing has really changed. We were friends already,” Smyth added.


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