Nine-year-old Hannah Goldberg was eating a meatball in the Romulus Central School cafeteria when it stuck in her throat. She couldn't breathe.
High school English teacher Brian Heffron was on lunch duty that day. He saw a student look at him in distress.
"Her eyes were bulged, her face was kind of bulged," he said. "I asked if she needed help, could I help?" Once she indicated yes, Heffron began the Heimlich maneuver.
"I prayed that I remembered," he said. "After a few tugs, the food came out."
The fourth-grader with the brown hair and bangs could breathe again. Heffron held onto her for a few moments. "I was worried if I let go she might fall," he said.
When school nurse Babette Bennett arrived, Heffron let her take over. Both are members of the Romulus Faculty Association.
"I am very, very glad I was able to help her. As soon as the nurse was there I had to get away. The next day was difficult." Realizing what had happened — and what could have — was "overwhelming," said Heffon, who teaches English and journalism.
A former newspaper reporter, Heffron used to go to accident scenes and fires. But this was different. He was not a bystander.
Hannah insisted on staying in school the rest of the day. Bennett checked on her regularly and called her parents several times to let them know their daughter was OK.
"The school nurse took such care," said Hannah's mother, Heather Goldberg, a special education teacher in a district nearby.
Goldberg said her daughter put a meatball into her mouth without cutting it. "Part of it lodged. There was no air going in or out," said Goldberg, a member of the South Seneca Teachers Association. That's when Heffron spotted her.
"He was alert. He knew what to do," said Goldberg. "He saved her life. He saved all of our lives. He's a hero for sure."
Heffron said his school schedules first-aid training during a conference day each year. "I first took it because when I worked at the (news)paper we had a medical emergency and no one knew first aid. Everyone was standing around," he said. Fortunately, the victim in that case received medical attention in time.
"What an awful feeling to not have the information you need, to watch someone in distress and not be able to help," Heffron said.
Members like Brian Heffron are a "credit to our profession, because they make the extra effort to get additional training to further safeguard their students and colleagues," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who oversees health and safety issues for the union.