SIDNEY — A bus driver and a fifth-grade girl who saved the life of a choking kindergartner last week were honored Tuesday afternoon during a special school assembly.

When the girl, Abby Whitcomb, noticed on April 30 that 5-year-old Michael Remmers was choking and couldn’t breathe in the bus seat across the aisle from her on the way to school, she spoke up, alerting Nathan Philbrick, 47, who stopped the bus and administered the Heimlich maneuver.

It turned out that Michael was choking on a piece of butterscotch-flavored candy, which flew out of his mouth and six feet down the aisle, Philbrick said.

Michael suffered no injuries, and he said Tuesday that he didn’t remember much about the incident.

“From what I understand, Michael’s thought when he got off the bus that morning: He said, ‘The bus driver punched me pretty hard in the stomach,'” Lennie Goff, director of transportation for Regional School Unit 18 said, drawing laughter from the crowd of more than 150 students, parents, bus drivers and school staff members.

Goff also noted the modesty of Philbrick, who said he has been asked repeatedly to describe the events by the news media and people in the community.

“If I had to pick one bus driver out of all my drivers that least would want this attention, it would have been him,” Goff said.

Philbrick and school district administrators have credited the district’s mandatory safety training with teaching Philbrick the move that applies abdominal thrusts he used to save the boy’s life.

All bus drivers in attendance also were given tokens of appreciation from school staff members.

Sidney Selectman Doug Eugley presented certificates of commendation to Philbrick and Abby for their heroics.

The girl’s quick thinking and actions demonstrated that she is “such a fine example of youth,” while Philbrick’s “immediate action and use of the Heimlich maneuver prevented what could have been a very heartbreaking ending,” according to the commendations.

Those who know Abby, daughter of Sidney Board of Selectmen Chairman John Whitcomb, describe her as a kind child who spends much of her time helping others.

The oldest of two children, she is also the oldest child at Jenn’s Daycare on Reynolds Hill Road, where she and Michael were picked up moments before the choking incident.

Jenn Brunelle, the day care center’s owner, said she wasn’t surprised when she learned that Abby, who always has been attentive to the needs of the younger children, was the one to sound the alarm.

“She always likes to help me out,” Brunelle said.

Abby herself described Michael as a friend she met at day care, where they play tag or use the swings together, along with the other children.

Abby said she likes to read mysteries, including the Nancy Drew series, in which a young girl-turned-detective uses her sleuthing skills to help others.

Her mother, Mindy Whitcomb, said her daughter has been helping others since she was very young.

“It’s in her nature,” she said. “She’s just very caring.”

Abby also recently helped an elderly neighbor who had fallen, by calling 911 to alert authorities, her father said.

During the ceremony, Philbrick and Abby received plaques from the school district and gift bags from Michael’s family.

The gift bags were handed off by Michael, one of many children dressed in ladybug costumes in preparation for a school performance.

School Principal Nancy Reynolds relayed a message from Michael’s mother, Linda Breault.

“Mom just said what every Mom says: ‘There’s no price on my son’s life, but just a little something to say thank you,” Reynolds said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
[email protected]

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