Andrew Brownfield downplays his role as an instructional assistant at Harp Elementary School, yet his presence in the school cafeteria April 5 may have saved first-grader Holland Voss’ life.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be recognized, but I am just glad that I could help,” Brownfield said April 26 following the school’s monthly award ceremony.

Holland and Brownfield reflected on the incident that introduced the two for the first time.

Holland, 7, was sitting at a table talking with her classmates when she began to choke.

“I was trying to chew an apple,” Holland said. “Then I started choking, because I accidently swallowed it.”

Holland’s friends noticed she was having trouble breathing, so student Eiza Vega escorted her to Brownfield, who was monitoring the cafeteria during lunch.

Brownfield said he could see Holland was frightened as the students approached.

“She had her hands around her neck, and she had a shallow cough,” he said. “When she told me that she couldn’t breathe, I concluded that she was choking."

mjordan2@sdale.orgBrownfield said he was also frightened by Holland’s circumstances and had just a moment to evaluate the situation before realizing the CPR training he had recently completed had prepared him for the emergency.

“We had just finished the video training probably two or three days prior,” he said of the free staff CPR training offered through Springdale Schools. “We hadn't gotten the opportunity to pass the certification test yet, but just the knowledge helped to at least know how to react.”

Brownfield, 24, said he administered the Heimlich maneuver on Holland to clear the obstruction from her throat.

“He pushed my tummy, and I coughed it up,” Holland said. “It landed in the trashcan.”

Named for doctor Henry Heimlich, the Heimlich maneuver is a method of responding to airway obstructions by performing abdominal thrusts on a choking victim, according to the National Library of Medicine with the National Center for Biotechnology.

Holland said she was immediately thankful to be able to breathe again.

“It was a really scary moment, but I’m relieved that he did it,” she said.

mjordan2@sdale.orgBrownfield, who operates the kindergarten computer lab and helps monitor the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch, said he feels he was simply prepared for the emergency, rather than a hero.

“If you have the opportunity to get it, you should take it,” he said of CPR training, which includes Heimlich maneuver instruction. “If you're the only person there, and you have some idea of how you should act, it can definitely save a life.”

Molly Brock, Harp Elementary School principal, said she’s grateful for Brownfield’s timely response to the emergency, as well as his service to the school district.

“We are very fortunate to have enough staff members that are able to supervise and keep our students safe during lunch and on recess,” Brock said. “Mr. B's fast response to help a student in need is an act of service that will never be forgotten.”

Dr. Tammy Butler, school assistant principal, said Harp has a team of staff members who can respond to an emergency requiring CPR in no more than a minute.

“Safety is one of our top priorities in our school district and school,” Brock said. “We work together as a team in our building to ensure that students, staff and any stakeholders that visit our building are in a safe environment where learning can take place.”

About 30 of Harp’s staff are CPR certified, Brock said. Amy Schultz, Springdale Schools’ nursing director, said 1,159 of the district’s approximately 3,000 staff members are currently CPR certified.

“It's a worthwhile skill, and I am glad that I could use these skills in a public setting,” Brownfield said. “Even in a private setting, I can use it to save my own children.”

mjordan2@sdale.orgCaitlyn Voss, Holland’s mother and Harp Elementary Parent Teacher Association president, said she had just left Harp when the school called to tell her about Holland choking.

“We had never experienced any sort of choking, so it was definitely a scary time,” Caitlyn Voss said.

She said she and her husband, Jason Voss, are grateful for Brownfield’s, the school’s and the district’s commitment to safety.

“We know that she’s safe here,” Voss said of Harp Elementary. “We’re very thankful for that.”

The Voss family showed their appreciation of Brownfield’s quick reaction to the crisis with a basket of his favorite goodies, which Holland presented to the teacher at the April 26 school award ceremony.

“We brought him Cheez-Its and some jalapeño chips, and we got him an Amazon gift card and Sonic gift card and just a couple little treats for him to enjoy,” Voss said, adding she had asked the Harp commissioned school security officer to determine some of Brownfield’s favorite snacks.

Holland said she knows exactly how to prevent herself from choking while she’s eating in the future.

“Just stop talking,” she said.

mjordan2@sdale.orgHolland said she aspires to have a career as a fashion designer, a teacher and a doctor when she grows up.

“I want to be a doctor so I can help kids who are sick, and I want to be a teacher so I can teach people,” Holland said. “I want to be a fashion designer, because I think it would be really fun to do during the day.”

Brownfield never worked with Holland as a student, but said they now wave and say “hi” when they see each other at school.

“I was scared. I couldn't imagine how scared she was she was actually going through it,” he said of Holland choking. “It definitely makes the hallways smaller.”

Springdale Public Schools staff members interested in obtaining CPR certification may contact Amy Schultz at aschultz@sdale.org.