SIKESTON - An American Red Cross Website honoring "everyday heroes" is featuring one found right here in Sikeston - Charles Mitchell.
"Volunteer of the Week: The Faces of Service" is a new addition to the Red Cross Website originally dedicated to honoring Red Cross heroes who responded to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 by gathering their stories, according to Ray Steen, who works in communications and marketing at the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"We received an enormous response," said Steen. "Eventually we started getting more and more stories and some of them were not Sept. 11 related."
As so many of these other stories of heroism were worth telling, they decided to expand the site to include any Red Cross hero. "Every Wednesday there will be a new volunteer featured," said Steen.
Mitchell's story was the first selected from among those not related to the terrorist attacks. "I'm honored by that," said Mitchell. "They said I had an amazing story."
While on duty as a custodian at Lee Hunter Elementary last April, Mitchell spotted fifth-grader Jessica Williams choking on a piece of pizza.
Following the steps learned during American Red Cross CPR and First Aid training at the YMCA, Mitchell was able to save Jessica's life using abdominal thrusts commonly known as the Heimlich Maneuver.
Mitchell's story appeared on the front page of the April 10 Standard Democrat and the local Red Cross chapter recognized him with a certificate that summer.
He was "shocked" however, when the Red Cross contacted him about a week ago to interview him for the feature. "I never thought it would go this far," said Mitchell.
Although Mitchell appreciates the value of what he did, it is hard to think of himself as a hero. "Anybody with my training would have done what I did," Mitchell said. "My training just took over. I just want to thank the American Red Cross for their training and the YMCA for putting me through the training."
Mitchell said the emotions of seeing someone dying and then being able to save them is "something I'll never forget ... something that will live with me forever."
Although he hopes to never have to use those skills again, he intends to keep his training current. "I'm always going to keep it, stay certified," said Mitchell, adding that he had already renewed his CPR certification which expires after one year. "First Aid (certification) lasts three years."
Mitchell said he would like to see more school staff receive training and certification in First Aid and CPR. "It means life or death," said Mitchell. "I think everybody needs the training. A lot of times it takes EMS four or five minutes to arrive."
And in some cases - such as with Jessica - five minutes is too long. Steen estimated "hundreds of people a year" save lives using their Red Cross training and that it can be tough picking which stories to feature. "You get so many people that are heroes."
As fate would have it, both Jessica and Mitchell ended up at the Sikeston Middle School when she advanced to the next grade and he was transferred there from the elementary school. "It brings a smile to my face every time I see her because it reminds me of what I did," he said.
Mitchell said the recognition and media attention don't really mean all that much, however: "The main thing is the kid is alive."
The Volunteer of the Week link leading to Mitchell's story can be found in the "Spotlight" box on the right side of the American Red Cross home page at www.redcross.org.