Janitor employs Heimlich to save Oak Harbor second-grader

Custodian Ron Dunphy accepts an award from the Oak Harbor School District Monday for saving the life of an 8-year-old boy. - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times.
Custodian Ron Dunphy accepts an award from the Oak Harbor School District Monday for saving the life of an 8-year-old boy.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times.

An Oak Harbor elementary school student and his family credit a custodian for saving his life.

Calvin Whelpley, a second-grader at Broad View Elementary, was eating his lunch when a piece of corn dog became lodged in his throat.

Unable to breathe, he got the attention of a classmate, who sought help from custodian Ron Dunphy.

“It was just a regular lunch, and one of the little kids came up and said ‘Calvin is sick,’” said Dunphy.

When Dunphy approached the student, he was standing but unable to respond. Dunphy asked him whether he was choking and the boy was able to motion “yes.” He immediately tried the Heimlich maneuver.

“I had never performed it before, especially on a little second-grader,” he said.

A first attempt at the Heimlich maneuver failed to dislodge anything, but a second more aggressive attempt forced the piece of food out of the boy’s windpipe and onto the floor.

The custodian said he has received a lot of praise for possibly saving Whelpley’s life. Last Monday, he was honored by Principal Joyce Swanson at the Oak Harbor school board meeting. The child’s mother, Cyndi, also came to the school to personally thank him.

“That could’ve potentially been a life-changing moment,” said Cyndi. “The best thing is, (Dunphy) is such a humble guy. He just shrugged and said ‘I did it.’”

Dunphy learned the Heimlich maneuver from a first aid class six years ago, and added, “You see it on TV constantly.”

Dunphy said he doesn’t consider himself a hero and he was thinking more as a parent would in that situation.

“I treat all the kids just like they’re one of mine. I’m not just going to sit there and watch.”

He also hopes to see an award go to the child who alerted him to trouble that day.

Cyndi said her son continues to be a happy second-grader, and he recently learned how to ride his first bike.

“We’re just very grateful he was in the right place at the right time and did the right thing,” said Cyndi. “Thank you just seems so small for such a heroic act.”

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