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4-year-old who saved his brother declared a hero

Andy Stenberg of Lansbrook describes his 4-year-old son Andrew as "an extremely spiritual little boy."

"Everything that happens good," said Stenberg, 40, "he attributes to God."

On New Year's Eve, when Andrew screamed for help as his little brother choked on a piece of candy, it was the kind of thing that made the preschooler wonder.

At the dinner table a few days later, Andrew asked, "Do you think God was smiling when I helped Stefan?"

If so, the Almighty has company. East Lake Fire Rescue was so impressed with Andrew's actions that firefighters honored him as "Hero for the Day" on Saturday. They gave Andrew a hero certificate at his house and drove him through the neighborhood on a fire truck with lights flickering and sirens blaring.

Ursula Stenberg, Andrew's mother, said her son was excited when he heard the fire truck would be coming to their house. But he didn't get the "hero" part.

No matter.

"You're a hero," his mother told him.

Without Andrew, a New Year's party in a comfortable, seemingly safe neighborhood might have ended tragically. Ursula Stenberg, 43, recalled the night's events.

The Stenbergs were at a New Year's party at the house of neighbors Dave and Janet Dohanish, who also have three children. The children were mostly playing in a back playroom.

On the kitchen counter, a bowl was filled with hard candy. The round peppermint looked good to Andrew, so he asked his mother if he could have one. She gave him the okay.

Then Stefan, 2, who tries to keep up with his brother, wanted a piece.

Ursula Stenberg, a licensed practical nurse for five years, said she should have known better. Dave and Janet Dohanish expressed concern about giving the candy to Stefan.

"I just didn't want him crying and making a scene," Ursula Stenberg said. "So I gave in."

Andy Stenberg gave Stefan a piece of candy. Then 4-month-old Kristen Stenberg started crying and her mother turned her attention to her, assuming the boys' father would keep an eye on them. But the boys slipped out and returned to the playroom.

"The next thing I know," Ursula Stenberg said, "Andrew's pulling Stefan and crying and saying, "Stefan's choking! Stefan's choking!' "

Andrew pulled Stefan to his mother. The small boy had his whole hand down his throat, trying to get the candy out, and he was turning red.

Ursula Stenberg pulled the hand out and couldn't see the candy. So she immediately turned him upside down and started doing thrusts to his back.

She pulled him up to check and the candy was still not there. She said the next moment haunts her as she tries to fall asleep each night.

"I knew he was in trouble," she said. "He wasn't making any noise, no gagging sound. He wasn't getting any air at all."

Dave Dohanish already had East Lake Fire Rescue on the phone when she screamed, "Call 911!"

Dohanish stayed on the line while Ursula Stenberg turned Stefan over and tried again.

Before long, the boy threw up and the candy was dislodged.

East Lake Fire Rescue said it would come anyway and check the boy over.

It was the last call of 2004 for the crew of three, all paramedics, that arrived within minutes at the Dohanish home.

Firefighter/paramedic Gary Wilson was the medic in charge and arrived with lieutenant/paramedic Mark Teolis and driver engineer/paramedic Mike Porch.

"We did a little assessment and everything turned out fine," Wilson said. "The brother, we kind of let him know what a great job he did."

Dohanish said he had a few drinks in him and the emergency had been shocking.

"Ursula was great; she knew exactly what to do," Dohanish said. "I give the 4-year-old a lot of credit. That little boy's a hero."

Dohanish said the experience taught him two things:

+ Prevent choking in children by keeping hard candy and small objects out of reach.

+ Know what to do in an emergency.

"Make sure you take a CPR class that includes infant CPR and choking," said District Chief Steve Rogers, a father himself. And practice "adult supervision."

Ursula Stenberg said that when she tells her friends about what happened, they all say they have given in, too. They all have their own stories about near-chokings.

"I hope this brings awareness to other people, how quickly this can happen," the mother said. "It doesn't take long to turn into a tragedy."

Later on New Year's, she put her youngest son to bed. And when she did, she paused and just listened to the sound of his small breaths going in and out.