All in a Day’s Work: Memorial Fund Staffer Rescues Young Visitor

Thursday, December 18, was shaping up to be a fairly typical late Fall day at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Families and friends of fallen officers had come to honor loved ones and make rubbings of their names on the Memorial walls. Business people rushing to meetings were finding a brief respite in a stroll through the Memorial grounds. And children were there with parents and nannies, enjoying the lion statuary and maybe having some lunch.

As on most days, these and other activities were taking place under the watchful eye of Debbie Catena. Debbie is the Memorial Fund staff member who, for the past two years, has provided on-site visitor support at the Memorial.

Shortly after noon, Debbie noticed that the normally tranquil rhythm of the Memorial had been disrupted. A woman was hurriedly leading a young boy in her charge away from the Memorial grounds and toward the Metro subway. Debbie could see that the boy was in some type of distress, and she headed toward the pair. In Debbie’s experience, most young children who are “having issues” at the Memorial are just in need of a friendly voice and a treat. So Debbie readied one of her signature lollipops for the young lad.

But upon reaching the boy, Debbie could see right away that the situation was far more serious. The 4-year-old was having great difficulty breathing, and his complexion was beginning to turn blue. Complicating the situation was the fact that the boy’s nanny spoke little English, so she could not easily articulate what was going on.

A former registered nurse and an amazing “people person,” Debbie sprang into action. She quickly determined that the boy had been eating a hot dog purchased at a nearby vendor. A piece of the hot dog had obviously become wedged in his airway. Without hesitation, Debbie grabbed the boy and applied the Heimlich maneuver. Debbie used her training and experience as a nurse to customize the technique on the child, ensuring he was not harmed in the process.

After the piece of hot dog was expelled and the boy was breathing normally again, Debbie sat down with him and his nanny and helped them calm down. Typical of her humble nature, Debbie barely said anything about the incident to her supervisors at the Memorial Fund. But once staff found out, they gave Debbie a rousing cheer at the organization’s holiday party on Friday.

Great work, Debbie! You are a wonderful representative of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and a truly caring—and quick thinking—friend to all of our visitors.