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Six Central Iowans Honored at Heroes of the Heartland

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The American Red Cross of Central Iowa, along with title sponsor Nationwide, congratulates six central Iowa individuals as the 2016 Heroes of the Heartland. These outstanding citizens have demonstrated courage, compassion and unselfish character in the eyes of their neighbors and communities. 

The Heroes of the Heartland breakfast was held at the Prairie Meadows Event Center on Friday, April 8 at 7:00 a.m. Congressman David Young and Governor Terry Branstad spoke during the program. Heroes of the Heartland also celebrated 100 years of American Red Cross service in Iowa, and featured a timeline with Red Cross historical artifacts and a look back at a century of service from World War I to present day. 

Carl Burt, Des Moines: On a spring afternoon in 2015, Carl Burt was cleaning up after having an outdoor dinner with his girlfriend Kory and her mother, Cheri, when something went terribly wrong.  Kory noticed her mom slouched back in her chair and she was barely breathing. Kory shouted for Carl who immediately took action. Carl began to rub Cheri’s sternum and attempted to begin CPR, but Cheri’s jaw was clenched shut. He told Kory to call 9-1-1 while he continued to rub Cheri’s sternum and moved her into a position to begin giving rescue breaths. Carl started doing chest compressions and after only two, Cheri suddenly awoke. Emergency services arrived, checked Cheri’s vitals and determined that she had had a seizure. Carl is a jail service aid with the Polk County jail and it is mandatory for him to be certified in CPR. 

Kelsey Devore, Chariton: On the morning of January 16, 2015, 12-year-old Kelsey heard a loud noise and ran outside to find her mother lying on the ground with a gunshot wound. Kelsey immediately called 9-1-1 and was able to give the dispatcher the information that emergency personnel needed. Kelsey not only remained calm and composed during a tense and scary situation, but she became a rock for her family during her mother’s lengthy hospital. Kelsey stayed upbeat and positive and when her mother was finally able to come home, Kelsey stayed by her side helping her get around in her wheelchair and with a walker, and making sure her mother took her medications.

Joe Hogan, Altoona: Joe Hogan founded the nonprofit, Train to Inspire, to improve the quality of life for individuals with mental and physical disabilities. He encourages participants to push past their perceived limits and creates opportunities for them to see what they can do, not what they can’t do. Train to Inspire hosts free events that feature new experiences for participants like laser tag, paintball, rock wall climbing and a Super Hero Obstacle Course. All of the participants are drawn to Joe and his huge heart. While overcoming addiction and with a commitment to health and wellness, Joe developed a passion for helping others see what they can do, not what they can’t do. 

Barb Jorgensen, Harlan: On December 28, 2015, Barb Jorgensen went outside to shovel snow when she noticed thick black smoke pouring from her neighbor Theo’s front window. Barb ran to the side of the house, where she knew the bedrooms were located, because she knew that she shouldn’t go to the front door. Barb started beating on the side of the house and yelling for her neighbor to get out of the burning home. Due to Barb’s actions and persistence, Theo and his son were able to escape the home safely. According to Harlan Fire Chief, Roger Bissen, there were no working fire alarms in the home. Chief Bissen said Barb is a hero because Theo and his son would likely have died from smoke inhalation if Barb had not taken action.

Austin “Trey” Rice, Grimes: On Sunday July 12, 2015, “Trey” Rice was floating down the Raccoon River with his cousin and a couple friends. While resting on a sandbar, they heard what sounded like yelling. Trey and his friend, Austin, ran down to where the yelling was coming from and saw a young boy tangled up in branches and floating debris. The boy seemed to be struggling to keep his head above the water and Trey noticed that he wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Without hesitation, Trey and Austin jumped into the river, but the current pulled them both downstream. After fighting their way back to shore, Trey found a place along the river that he knew would get him to the boy. After jumping into the river for a second time, Trey was able to reach the young boy and pull him to safety.  

Meredith Wilharber, Urbandale: Meredith Wilharber knows firsthand about Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension. It took her mother’s life when she was just 12-years-old. It reappeared in Meredith’s life when she was diagnosed at age 34 with the same disease. Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension or PAH is a chronic and deadly combination heart and lung disease where the pulmonary artery narrows and constricts, causing blood passage between the heart and lungs to become strained. The cause of PAH is unknown and there is no cure. Meredith and her husband, Randy, founded the Blue Lips Foundation with the goal of changing how and when PAH is diagnosed through awareness and education, as well as funding research and the development of diagnostic tools.

For the second year, 5th through 8th graders from around the central Iowa area were asked to write about their heroes for our Heroes of the Heartland essay contest.  Students wrote essays describing their heroes, which range from teachers to grandparents to neighbors. The six winners are from school districts across the central Iowa chapter. Chief Dana Wingert from the Des Moines Police Department presented the winners with certificates at the Heroes of the Heartland breakfast. They also received checks for $100 and were recognized at the Heroes of the Heartland breakfast:

Madi Hoffman, 4th grade—Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary, Indianola

Elise Juhl, 8th grade—Harlan Community School

Niall Mahoney, 8th grade—Harlan Community School 

Alana Ploen, 8th grade—Harlan Community School 

Megan Reutter, 7th grade—Boone Middle School 

Audrey Troutman, 4th grade—Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary, Indianola 

The Red Cross would like to thank title sponsor, Nationwide, and media partners Register Media, Des Moines Radio Group KCCI Channel 8 and Screenscape Studios for their support of the Heroes of the Heartland breakfast. 

The work of the Red Cross is made possible by the generosity of the American public. You can help people affected by disasters big and small by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables us to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters. You can donate by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your donation helps provide food, shelter and emotional support to those affected by disasters.

To see photos of the 2016 Central Iowa Heroes of the Heartland breakfast, click here