Hero honored by Red Cross

Published 12:42 pm Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rita Hanegraaf is a hero.

Everybody says so.

Even President Obama, whose signature on the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit award made it official.

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Maybe more importantly, the life she saved calls her a hero.

“I need to thank Rita for saving my life or I wouldn’t be here tonight,” said Lois Kohers at Wednesday night’s award presentation.

Penny Bartesch, health and safety coordinator for the Mower County Chapter of the American Red Cross, welcomed guests to the ceremonies held at Red Cross headquarters.

Steve Drennan, chairman of the chapter’s board of directors, said the Certificate of Merit honor “exemplifies the highest concern for another human being.”

Then, Drennan told how Hanegraaf, a farm wife, mother of three grown children and office manager for Northern Country Co-op, earned the title “hero.”

On Sept. 9, 2008, Hanegraaf helped save the life of Lois Kohers, while serving as a state primary election judge at the Rose Creek-Windom Township Hall.

As Hanegraaf recalled the incident, she said she thought she heard someone choking. It was Kohers, another election judge sitting at a nearby table.

Hanegraaf’s Red Cross training in adult, child and infant CPR paid off moments later.

She positioned herself behind the woman and prepared to administer abdominal thrusts.

When she asked the woman if she was, indeed, choking, Kohers didn’t answer her.

Hanegraaf next went ahead and administered abdominal thrusts after learning the woman had just eaten a cracker.

Suddenly, Kohers went limp and showed no signs of life.

Hanegraaf shouted for someone to call 9-1-1.

Wayne Robertson, another Red Cross-trained volunteer, and Mower County deputies Barry Reburn and John Bachman joined Hanegraaf in the rescue attempt.

After lowering Kohers to the floor, Hanegraaf started CPR on the victim and continued until a Mower County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived with an AED defibrillator.

The deputy administered the AED’s shock and Hanegraaf continued CPR until an ambulance crew arrived and took over.

No one doubts the skills Hanegraaf learned from the American Red Cross health and safety services course and which she knew how to instantly administer on the victim saved Kohers’ life.

Hanegraaf’s award was the second Certificate of Merit award given to a Mower County chapter member. Mike Silvis, an assistant manager at HyVee Food Store in Austin and a chapter board member, received the other four years ago.

Hanegraaf’s husband and youngest son, Jeff, were busy with field work, but son James and daughter Sheila were present to see their mother honored.

“I’m glad she was there when she was needed,” James said.

Her daughter, Sheila Tangren, called her mother’s quick thinking and actions a “great accomplishment” and said she was humbled by her mother’s heroism.

Both said safety on the farm was a lesson they learned from their father and mother growing up outside Rose Creek.

Elaine Hansen, director of the Mower County chapter, since July 1, 2008, over 1,800 have been trained in adult/child CPR with AED and infant CPR.

According to Hansen, the chapter’s CPR instructors strive to help students achieve a “comfort level” that allows them to react instantly in an emergency.

In Hanegraaf’s case, being the co-captain of the chapter’s Rose Creek Disaster Action Team also gave her an edge.

Ironically, Danny Lee, the CPR instructor who shepherded Hanegraaf through the training was present Wednesday night.

The 28-year veteran of CRP training agreed with Hansen that teaching people to overcome the fear of getting involved in an emergency is a key component to the success of the CPR training.

And what did the hero herself have to say?

“I want to thank everybody for this honor,” she said. “ I did it because of what the people here taught me to do.”

Also honored Wednesday night was Wayne Robertson, who assisted Hanegraaf and an unidentified Mower County Sheriff’s Office deputy in saving Kohers’ life.