‘The main award is that my daughter is alive’: Red Cross trainer recognized for use of life-saving skills at home

By Angela Glowacki, American Red Cross

Gavin Walsh made it a priority to learn CPR and First Aid in his adult years, even going on to become a trainer of those skills.

It was that training which kicked into place in his own home to help his young daughter avert disaster – and earn Gavin a national recognition.

In 2017 around Thanksgiving, Gavin’s daughter, who was two-and-a-half-years old at the time, took a grape from the dinner table and went back to her room to eat it.

Gavin TWO

After sharing his life-saving story, Gavin Walsh, top left, was awarded the Certificate of Merit from the American Red Cross, presented during a board meeting to Wisconsin Region COO Tom Mooney, bottom right.

“For some reason, something told me to look down the hallway to where she was,” Gavin shared in July during a virtual meeting of the Southwest Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Turned out, Gavin saw his daughter had begun to choke on the grape. He recognized these signs of choking and gave his daughter back blows. On the third strike, the grape was dislodged from her airway.


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Gavin had been taking CPR classes through the Red Cross since he was a young adult and had been renewing his certification every two years.

“I believe the training that I got gave me the knowledge to know what to do even though I was panicked,” Gavin shared. “I don’t know how I would have reacted if I didn’t have that training.”

Gavin went on to discuss why training was so important to him: “When we take the training, we don’t think about actually using it … but from taking the training, it’s made me realize that …. We never know what’s going to happen.”

For his action, Gavin was awarded the Certificate of Merit, the highest honor the Red Cross bestows upon a citizen. The Certificate is signed by the President of the United States, and is accompanied by a medal and a pin.

“I am thankful to the Red Cross for the training. It’s an honor to get the award, but it is humbling too. The main award is that my daughter is alive,” Gavin said when surprised with the award during the board meeting.

During this meeting, he stressed how important it was to receive this training, “These skills actually work and save lives and its these skills that are the reason that my daughter is still alive today.”

It was the second time in as many weeks that the Wisconsin Region of the Red Cross was able to recognize life-saving actions by people who have taken First Aid and CPR training. A group at a Rothschild manufacturer were awarded for their efforts in saving the life of a co-worker.

To recognize someone who has saved a life with Red Cross training in your community, share their story on this page.

Certificate of Merit honoree took initial steps to save co-worker’s life – and was ready for whatever came next

Stories and Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

When a co-worker collapsed, David Klitzman knew just what to do. He’d been preparing for this moment over the past two decades through training with the American Red Cross.

David Klitzman shares - CPR award July 2019 American Red Cross

David Klitzman shares his life-saving story during a brief award presentation July 17, 2019 at Kerry Foods in Jackson, Wisc.

First, Klitzman cleared the scene on the factory floor at Kerry Foods, the Jackson, Wisc. ingredients manufacturer where he and the co-worker were working that morning in August 2018. Next, Klitzman directed others to dial 9-1-1, then he comforted the co-worker as they talked through steps to identify her ailments and condition. He asked questions down the “SAMPLE” CPR training checklist. She revealed that she was suffering chest and head pains, and indicated that she had had a related doctor’s appointment recently.

“I was just happy to be able to participate, to help and keep her calm,” said Klitzman, a 19-year employee at Kerry, who has maintained his CPR training throughout that time. “It was nice to know that when that situation came up, I was able to do what I could and if it would’ve went any other way, I was ready to do the next level as well.”

That information was relayed to emergency responders, who took over upon arrival. The co-worker was treated and released from a nearby hospital in the subsequent days. Responders acknowledged Klitzman’s role in taking important steps to help save a life. In turn, Klitzman credited repeated CPR trainings from the Red Cross as central to his ability to step into action right away.

For his life-saving efforts, the American Red Cross on Wednesday presented the Certificate of Merit to Klitzman, of West Bend, during a short presentation at Kerry Foods. Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive, Red Cross, lauded the safety focus at Kerry Foods and Klitzman’s own passion to obtain training – he’s also been a certified lifeguard and has helped his own grandchildren during medical situations – that keeps others’ safety in mind.

Jason Ampe David Klitzman Mark Thomas talks - CPR award July 2019 American Red Cross

Mark Thomas, right, Red Cross Regional CEO, express his gratitude to Klitzman, center, and Jason Ampe, of Kerry Foods, which offers Red Cross CPR training at their facilities.

“Understand that in this situation, someone was in trouble and someone needed help. If it were you, wouldn’t you want someone who could act quickly and who is trained to do the right thing? Every second counts,” Thomas said.

The Certificate of Merit is the highest civilian honor at the Red Cross, and is provided to a person who demonstrates life-saving measures to people in crisis. The Certificate is signed by the President of the United States and the chairman of the national American Red Cross, and comes with a medallion and pin.

Klitzman will be added to a roster of Certificate honorees in a Red Cross national online database. He is among a trio of honorees in the past six months and the first recent recipient in southeast Wisconsin.

The presentation was held at Kerry Foods in front of dozens of co-workers, Klitzman’s wife, Lisa, supporters of the local Red Cross, and Washington County Supervisor Donald Kriefall. Jason Ampe, of Kerry Foods, welcomed the crowd and opened the presentation by lauding Klitzman and pointing to the value of safety at the food ingredients company’s facilities in Jackson.

To bring Red Cross CPR, First Aid and other safety trainings to your workplace, visit RedCross.org/training.