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Minnesota youngster returns to Lee County to thank rescuers

By Staff | Jun 30, 2010

Cal Proechel, left, and Sanibel Police Officer Robert Feliciano.

Last Thursday morning In a conference room at the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, young Cal Proechel and his mother Denise extended their thanks personally for the "miracle" that Sanibel and Lee County emergency responders had wrought on March 31.

On that day, Sanibel Police Department Officer Robert Feliciano was directing traffic at the Tarpon Bay Road/West Gulf Drive intersection when he heard a 9-1-1 call on his radio to a location about 100 yards from his. He responded immediately to find what turned out to be a doctor and a nurse administering CPR to a very small child on a motel pool deck.

Feliciano, who has been a fire-fighter/EMT for over 25 years and a Sanibel Police officer more than 15, immediately started to assist them in clearing the child’s airway and administering CPR himself

Not far away, the EMS team of Capt. Tom Tracy, firefighter/paramedic Rob Doerr and firefighter/EMT Josh Koza were headed out for food. They responded in only four minutes.

"Everything worked," Koza said. "We were all in the right place at the right time."

Denise Proechel and Cal were swarmed by cameramen when they came in the room Thursday but, after a few pictures were taken, the press pulled back to let the heroes of the moment — Cal and his rescuers — greet each other.

The first responders had been following Cal’s recovery on www.CaringBridge.org, a health-based website that connects patients/families/friends via frequently updated progress reports. Since the boy had been essentially non-responsive when they last saw him in person, they were overjoyed to see a perfectly normal, smiling, 6-year-old come out of the crush of reporters to say hello and thanks.

In addition to the care package he had already received that included a genuine firefighter’s bunker jacket, helmet and fleece pullover, last week Cal was given a Sanibel Fire & Rescue baseball cap and T-shirt… and all the cookies left over from the morning meeting.

Although Cal is from Minnesota, when the firefighters found out he is a devoted Boston Red Sox fan, he immediately received a standing invitation to a game "anytime you’re in town."

The three members of Sanibel Fire & Rescue have received Phoenix awards for saving a life in the line of duty.

It was a really emotional experience, they all said more than once last Thursday, especially since they did not know if their efforts had been successful.

Following the "reunion," Feliciano — who, according to his lieutenant, "has more rescues than any of us" — expanded upon that thought with, "I couldn’t eat or sleep that evening What could I have done better? Did I do anything wrong? It’s just a very, very tough thing to deal with."

Cal promised he’d be back on Sanibel again to see his new friends.