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Prepared to Handle a Crisis, Any Place and Any Time


When Rita Hanegraaf arrived at Rose Creek City Hall, she was prepared to do her civic duty of volunteering at the voting polls for the state primary election. Little did she know that she would perform another noble civic duty—saving a life.

After the opening of the polls, Lois Kobes sat down to eat a cracker and began feeling dizzy. Those around her began to ask if she was feeling ok and asked her if she could breathe. Someone said, “I think she’s choking.”

Hanegraaf used her American Red Cross life-saving skills, first asking Kobes if she was choking. When there was no response, Hanegraaf began administering abdominal thrusts since Lois had just eaten a cracker. Eventually, Kobes went limp and showed no signs of life.

After instructing someone to call 9-1-1, Hanegraaf lowered Kobes to the ground and began mouth-to-mouth breathing and chest compressions. There was no automated external defibrillator (AED), so she continued CPR until the Sheriff’s Department arrived with the device. In total, approximately 20-25 minutes of CPR was administered before Kobes was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Hanegraaf is a volunteer and member of the American Red Cross Mower County Disaster Action Team. This team is trained annually to be certified in CPR and First Aid. Thanks to her preparedness for this situation, Kobes’ life was saved; she was hospitalized for cardiac arrest and released a few days later.

“When Rita got involved with the Disaster Action Team, she thought that she would be responding to fires, not participating in a life-saving event by performing CPR,” said Elaine Hansen, executive director of the American Red Cross Mower County Chapter. “She was grateful that she had the skills and knowledge of what to do when it mattered the most.”

For her heroic efforts in saving a life, Hanegraaf received the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit, the highest award given by the organization to an individual or team of individuals who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Health and Safety Services course. The certificate bears the signature of the President of the United States, who serves as the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross, and the signature of the chairman of the American Red Cross.

Contact your local chapter to discover ways you can be prepared or volunteer.