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How a retired Natick cop helped save a life

Jun 25, 2017

FRAMINGHAM – Christine Sullivan was trying to be good.

For lunch, she packed herself a salad topped with chicken. It almost killed her.

“She signaled me non-verbally,” her colleague Beverly Presson recalled, “and then it was clear that she couldn’t speak, or she couldn’t cough.”

Presson sprung into action that April afternoon in Worcester. She thought of Sullivan’s two children as she struggled to dislodge the piece of chicken stuck in her throat.

The Heimlich maneuver wasn’t working. Then, instructions suddenly popped into Presson’s head: “Re-position, try harder.”

“And Christine can tell you, I tried pretty hard,” Presson said. “I was able to lift her off the ground.”

“I was bruised,” Sullivan said.

Reflecting on the incident later, while walking her dog, Presson remembered the origins of that voice in her head. “And I’m like, ‘Walter’. Those were Walter’s words.”

Walter Horning, 79, who worked as a Natick police officer for 36 years, began teaching basic life support classes at Leonard Morse Hospital in 1965. More than 50 years later, Horning continues to train the staff of MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham.

“I’m like, sorry Christine, this is no longer about you, this is about Walter and Walter’s years of service and just how well he prepared me to respond,” Presson said.

Presson took Horning’s class multiple times during her 28 years with MetroWest Medical Center. She, along with Sullivan, now works for the state Department of Mental Health.

“Walter was, for me, the epitome of an educator,” Presson said. “He gave vignettes, told stories, and he spent forever on the Heimlich.”

After Presson and Sullivan presented him with a certificate of recognition from the state, Horning put the spotlight on his former student.

“This is great, but it’s not me that did the Heimlich maneuver and it’s not me that saved the person,” Horning said. “It took a person that really wanted to help and took the time to do it.”

“I was listening to you,” Presson replied.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time Horning learned of a former student’s heroics. Horning received a phone call at 2 a.m. from a man who had just successfully performed CPR on his mother.

“I’ll never forget that one,” said Horning, who lives in Natick.

Horning can’t estimate how many people he’s taught over the decades. On Tuesday morning, after his ceremony, he added another dozen people to the list.

“It’s just something everybody should take the time to learn,” he said.

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