Just over two weeks ago, Starr’s Mill senior Evan Schmalenberger was chatting with a friend at lunch when he felt someone hitting on his arm.
At first he ignored the distraction before turning to see classmate Devohn Walton, in severe distress.
Walton’s hands were around his neck making the universal choking gesture.
“Everybody was just literally sitting there staring, not even moving,” Evan recalled. “His veins were bulging out of his head and neck.”
Walton remained seated as Schmalenberger, a lacrosse player, went behind him and summoned knowledge from ninth grade health class.
“I didn’t know if I was doing the Heimlich right, I just kind of bear hugged him and started squeezing as hard as I could,” Schmalenberger said.
Some 15-30 seconds later and Walton coughed up the obstruction, able to breathe again.
This isn’t the first time Schmalenberger has intervened to save someone’s life. As a freshman on spring break at Fort Walton Beach several years ago, he was exiting the ocean when he heard a mother pleading for help as her son struggled in the waves. Schmalenberger dove in, swam out, and pulled the youth back to shore.
So Walton picked a pretty good person to sit next to at lunchtime on the day he choked.
Now Schmalenberger and Walton have a deal for the rest of the school year. Every time they pass in the hall, a congratulatory fist bump is exchanged.
While the situation was scary for Schmalenberger, something inside him clicked and forced him to act, just like it did at the beach three years ago.
“I don’t know if people didn’t remember how to do it, but it was just kind of a scary situation,” Schmalenberger said.
Immediately after the save, Schmalenberger received pats on the back from fellow students. His economics teacher, Michael Melvin, has taken to starting a round of applause every time Schmalenberger walks into class.
Schmalenberger also received an honorary “mission possible” T-shirt and was recognized at halftime of a home football game.
For now, Schmalenberger is still unsure of his future career plans. He’s having a good time playing lacrosse and hopes to keep playing in college.
It’s not hard to imagine Schmalenberger will find something useful to do with the rest of his life. He’s already proven, twice now, that he’s handy to have around in case of emergency.