HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. — Hernando County Deputy Christopher Downey keeps to his routine as a school resource officer at Eastside Elementary school, but on Tuesday things felt different.
"I don’t know what it was but something just told me I needed to go back through the cafeteria,” he said, after walking a student to class.
Moments later, 3-year-old Jayton Thomas was rushed over to Downey in the arms of his pre-K teacher.
“He was still conscious but not breathing,” Downey said.
When he realized the toddler was choking, he acted.
"You don’t think you just act.”
Downey lifted him up and performed the Heimlich maneuver. That worked, successfully dislodging the food that was blocking Jayton’s airway.
Thomas is non-verbal and has a hard time communicating, but in that moment he let out a noise to let Downey know he could breath. His mom, Tonya Thomas is beyond thankful.
"He means a lot to me and my family because if he wasn’t there, what if I didn’t have him (Jayton),” said Tonya Thomas.
She calls the deputy a hero even though Downey doesn’t consider himself one. He says it comes down to training and thinks everyone should learn life saving measures like the Heimlich because you never know when you’ll need to help.
"When I was stationed at Fort Hood back in the early 80s I was also given a medal for saving a soldiers life in the dining facility that was choking in there,” he said. "So, I’ve actually used the skills more than one time."
"In the end he’s okay, thank goodness for these people, thank goodness for this man,” Tonya said with tears in her eyes.
She says Jayton is doing fine and doesn’t seem to be traumatized by the incident.