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Teen saves grandma’s life

Learned Heimlich maneuver as a Boy Scout

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Teen saves grandma’s life

Will Tankersley, 18, saved grandmother Janet Donaldson with the Heimlich maneuver, which he learned as a boy scout.

Sometimes the best gifts don’t come in a prettily wrapped box.

A few days before Christmas, Statesboro resident Janet Dudley Donaldson received an early present when her grandson Will Tankersley saved her life.

She and family members were enjoying a day filled with shopping in Pooler when they decided to stop for lunch. The meal wasn’t as uneventful as they had expected, however, because Donaldson suddenly found herself choking.

“We had stopped at Seasons of Japan,” she said. “It was a really freaky day.”

They ordered and began eating.

“We were just chilling and eating and Grandma started to choke,” said Will, 18.

A piece of steak had lodged in Donaldson’s airway and refused to budge.

“It just stopped. I had no air, no passage,” she said. “I tried to drink some water but it just came back up, wouldn’t go down.”

She couldn’t swallow, and she could not breathe.

Realizing the danger, Donaldson’s daughter yelled for someone to help and call 911, but Will knew he could not wait.

Having been a Boy Scout for years, he remembered how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, in which a person places his hands around a choking person’s middle and makes an upward jerk, dislodging the offending piece of food or whatever is choking the victim.

Will “crawled across the table and did the maneuver,” Donaldson recalled, becoming emotional as she spoke about the life-saving moment.

“I knew if I didn’t do something, my grandma would not make it,” Will said. “This is the first time I ever had to use (the Heimlich maneuver).”

As he entered high school, Will became more involved in sports and eventually stopped attending Boy Scout meetings, but what he learned during his younger years in the group apparently made a lasting impact, said Lovett Bennett Jr., a Statesboro attorney who has been leader of Troop #342 at Statesboro’s Primitive Baptist Church for many years. He remembers Will as “a smart kid” and a great Scout.

Saving lives seems to be a trend for Scouts in his troop, he said.

“We have had five lives saved in the past 10 years,” Bennett said.

Several years ago, a Troop #342 Scout stepped in and rescued a person who was drowning. In another incident, a couple of local Scouts saved an injured doctor as they hiked the Appalachian Trail. Another Scout rescued his mother with the Heimlich maneuver a few years ago, and yet another saved the life of a former Bulloch County school superintendent at a local restaurant, Bennett said.

So many people learn the Heimlich maneuver and never think they will use it, but the knowledge is there in case they ever do, he said.

“I wish more young people would pay attention to things like that,” Will said. “There is not a more special thing than to save someone’s life. (The Heimlich maneuver) is something even older people need to learn.”

Will, son of Jenny and Alan Tankersley of Statesboro, has been accepted to Georgia Southern University and plans to attend this fall, with a yet undecided major.


Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.


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