A Lifesaving Encounter: A Red Cross Volunteer’s Heroic Act

  • Published
  • By Airman Koby Mitchell
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

In the blink of an eye, an ordinary day turned into a life-or-death situation for Sonia Quinonez. As she was enjoying a festival with her family, a piece of bread lodged in her throat, rendering her unable to breathe. In this moment of panic, Tiffani Grochalski, an American Red Cross volunteer, came to the rescue.

Choking can be completely silent and kills over 3,000 people annually in the U.S. alone. Tiffani was able to employ skills learned from Red Cross training programs to save the life of Sonia Quinonez, earning the American Red Cross Certificate of Merit for her life-saving actions.

On December 3, 2022, the Misawa Air Base Winterfest was in full swing with Tiffani selling baked goods to raise funds for the Red Cross organization, dressed as an elf for the occasion. Little did she know that her day of volunteering would transform into a life-saving mission.

“I was just volunteering like I normally do,” said Tiffani. “Selling cinnamon rolls, baked goods, just being your average vendor trying to market my products.”

Sonia’s daughter, Robyn Kronick, a military spouse attending the Winterfest with her infant daughter and mother, encountered a terrifying moment when her mother began choking on a piece of food.

“I was baby-wearing my daughter on my chest and couldn’t step in to help her, so I began shouting for help as loud as I could,” said Robyn. “So many people turned around to look but they couldn’t figure out why I was screaming.”

In this crucial time of need, Tiffani saw Robyn’s mother and jumped into action.

“Tiffani took one look and realized my mom wasn’t breathing,” Robyn explained. “She calmly asked if she was choking to which my mom nodded her head yes. Without missing a beat Tiffani got behind my mom and began the Heimlich maneuver. She did it so perfectly that she was able to clear her airway in one thrust. My mom began breathing and was seen by medical personnel immediately after.”

The Heimlich maneuver, or abdominal thrust, is a widely known and used method to dislodge objects stuck inside the airway of another. Tiffani’s ability to respond decisively in such a crucial situation stemmed from her training with the Red Cross. The organization imparted her with the skills necessary to execute the Heimlich maneuver. Despite this unusual start, the bond between Tiffani and Robyn extended far beyond this chance encounter, evolving into a budding friendship.

“Robyn had reached out to me and we started having this positive back and forth,” said Tiffani. “At one point I wanted to get a gift for her, but she wouldn’t let me, she told me, ‘Absolutely not, I’m going to buy something for you; my children have a grandmother because of you.’”

Reflecting on the incident, Tiffani was disheartened by the sight of bystanders who remained passive, despite their closer proximity to the chocking victim. However, rather than succumbing to disappointment, she maintained a hopeful outlook. Tiffani emphasized the importance of learning life-saving skills and encouraged others to pursue trainings available to them.

With an enduring interest in healthcare and a source of inspiration in her mother, a licensed practitioner nurse, Tiffani continues to attend Red Cross classes and maintain her certifications in emergency procedures, including CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.

“I hope that stories like mine help persuade people to get certified in these kinds of courses,” said Tiffani. “Watching something like what happened where a group of people just stand around is really disheartening, and I want to try to help make that change.”

For her courage and quick thinking, Tiffani was awarded the Certificate of Merit by the American Red Cross, the highest accolade within the Red Cross’ Lifesaving Award Program. Her ability to swiftly respond to a life-threatening situation, combined with her dedication to ongoing training, exemplifies the essence of a hero. Tiffani hopes that her story will inspire others to enroll in training programs, equipping them with the skills necessary to make a difference when the need arises.