On March 24, Thomas John "T.J." Flaherty, 13, and his 3-year-old niece were watching television when he gave her a Lifesaver candy as his sister-in-law had told him to do.
The candy would keep Dana Jill Flaherty from crying while her mother washed clothes.
Almost immediately after putting the candy in her mouth, Dana started choking on it. Her lips began turning blue.
T.J. didn't have time to get his adult brother, who was upstairs sleeping.
So T.J. applied the Heimlich maneuver he had learned in the first grade.
After six or seven attempts, he dislodged the candy that had gotten stuck in Dana's windpipe.
"After it was over, she wanted another one," said T.J., a seventh-grader at Northern Middle School in Hagerstown.
Yesterday, Maryland Emergency Medical Services presented T.J. and 20 other Marylanders with certificates for rescuing people from life-threatening situations or for improving the state's emergency medical care system. The ceremony was part of the national Emergency Medical Services Week.
"Today, we recognize heroes," said Dr. Ameen Ramzy, the state EMS director. The recipients "went beyond the call of duty," he said.
Among the honorees at ceremonies in the auditorium at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center were those who saved the lives of people injured in automobile crashes, who performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and who provided continued emergency care.
The awards were first given seven years ago, Ramzy said. Each year since then, 20 to 30 individuals and groups have been recognized for their deeds.
Honorees received a Civilian Certificate of Honor, a Distinguished Service Award or an Emergency Medical Services/Public Safety Certificate.
T.J. said he's reminded of that fateful day every time he eats a Lifesaver.
"I was pretty scared after it happened," T.J. said, holding his wooden plaque, a Civilian Certificate of Honor. "I was afraid she'd die."
T.J. said that was the first time he performed the lifesaving
Angela Palmer, 39, a gym teacher at Beach Elementary School in Carroll County, also was rewarded for her quick actions.
In December, while Palmer was on playground duty during lunchtime, several children ran up to her and reported that Heather Haas, 8, was hung up on a sliding board.
"I immediately went over there," Palmer recalled. "Her sweater or scarf was caught on the slide" and she was suffocating.
"I started calling her name and touching her. She was unconscious," Palmer said.
Palmer managed to free Heather and send her down the slide. "She was purple and it was just terrible," Palmer said. Certified in CPR, Palmer performed the lifesaving technique and started Heather breathing again.
"I just thank God I was able to do what I had learned," Palmer said.
About a week later, after the realization of what she had done hit her, Palmer said she cried for a week.
Yesterday, Heather and her father, Mike Haas, 36, of Calvert County, hugged Palmer and thanked her for coming to Heather's rescue.
Another honoree, Robert K. Smith, 31, of Catonsville, risked his life by pulling a woman from an overturned burning car on the Beltway in September. He said he didn't consider himself a hero.
"I think I'm an average person," Smith said. "I'd do the same thing again."