Prepared for the unthinkable

By Carly Basham

Dennis Brown was employed with Illinois Power for 42 years, prior to retiring a year and a half ago. During those 42 years of service, Dennis recalls sitting through multiple instructional classes for CPR and the Heimlich maneuver. Most of us have probably attended similar classes through school or work. You watch a few videos, practice the maneuvers on manikins, and carry on about the rest of the day as normal. It’s the type of information you may passively absorb, you pay enough attention to pass the class and then store it away without much thought. Or perhaps you haven’t taken a class, as circumstances haven’t warranted it or it hasn’t really crossed your mind. No one ever really plans for a life-altering emergency, but as someone who works as an emergency dispatcher, I can say without hesitation: they happen every single day.

Dennis Brown has been married to his wife, Crista, for 16 years. A few years into their marriage, they welcomed son Cody, and then daughter Camille. Crista Brown currently works as a teacher at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville.

On Friday, May 5, Dennis and Crista Brown decided to have dinner at The Elks in Jacksonville with some friends. It was a typical night, nothing out of the ordinary. While eating, Crista Brown tried a piece of her husband’s dinner, and when she swallowed, she immediately knew something was wrong. Crista Brown began choking.

Knowing that the food was stuck in her throat and feeling the automatic reaction to cough, she did what many people do, she left her group and stepped outside so as not to cause a scene. But once outside while attempting to cough, she felt the piece of food become more lodged in her throat, completely cutting off her airway. Brown said it was at this point the panic set in, as her airway was completely obstructed. She ran back to the dinner table her husband and friends were; upon realizing the severity of the situation, Dennis Brown sprang into action. The group ran outside and Dennis Brown, along with a friend, began administering the Heimlich maneuver. Crista Brown recalled that she was surprised at how violent the maneuvers actually are. The difference between taking a class, and performing or receiving first aid, is astronomical. It is a matter of life and death.

Dennis Brown and his friend were able to apply the training they had, and were successfully able to dislodge the food on which Crista Brown was choking. By all accounts, Dennis Brown saved her life. Crista Brown still tears up when speaking of her husband and this night, saying, “Dennis is a quiet, humble man. But he is not afraid of anything, he will always protect me. He is my hero.” Dennis Brown shies away from taking any sort of credit for his actions, speaking more so of his concern for his wife upon realizing what was going on. Speaking with them both side-by-side, it’s clear that they’re a team. It was also very clear how thankful Crista Brown was of the outcome, crediting the incident as giving her a new outlook on life and appreciation for each day. It’s crazy to think how different their household might be today had no one been trained in the Heimlich maneuver that day

When asking the two what they hoped to have come from this, they spoke very passionately about the need for others to educate themselves in first aid. The knowledge that Dennis Brown acquired over the years no doubt saved his wife’s life. The Browns have sat down for thousands of dinners, but in the blink of an eye, the future of thousands more could have changed. It begs the question: would you know what to do in a life or death emergency? Your life and the lives of others may depend on it.

For more information on CPR courses, you can contact Passavant Area Hospital at 217-245-9541, ext. 3890, or go to

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