Honoring everyday heroes

Nine area residents and one dog receive accolades at annual Red Cross event

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Tiffani Pekkala of Camas was honored on March 15, 2011, by the Red Cross as a Real Hero for organizing several blood drives and recruiting student donors. Pekkala, 16, has a rare condition which requires frequent injections of immunoglobulin, a blood product.

A Camas teen was one of 10 honorees from Clark and Cowlitz counties to receive a “Real Hero” award from the Red Cross last week.

Tiffani Pekkala, 16, was honored for organizing blood drives and rallying fellow students at Hayes Freedom High School to join her.

She and her grandmother, Bette-Jo Poser, started the annual drive in April 2009. Pekkala suffers from a very rare condition, primary immune deficiency disease, and requires daily immunoglobulin injections, a product derived from whole blood American Red Cross donors.

“I could just sit by and get the injections, but I wanted to do something to give back and say thank you,” Pekkala said.

“I also encourage my friends to donate as well. This one guy kept saying no, that he was really scared of needles, and I finally asked him, ‘What is it going to take to get you to give blood?’ He said, ‘Will you hold my hand?’ I said, ‘Fine.’ I just thought it was kind of funny that this big, 6 foot, 2 inch guy wanted me to hold his hand, but I did it.'”

When Pekkala first learned she’d been selected for a Real Hero award, she was shocked.

“I didn’t expect anything,” she said. “I get so much from other people, I just want to give back.”

She was diagnosed with PIDD at the age of 10, and has likely had the condition since birth.

Poser, who has raised Pekkala from a very young age, said she’d never paid too much attention to blood drives until her granddaughter became ill.

“You just don’t know what it’s like until it’s your own child or grandchild,” she said. “We wanted to give back and help other families as well, so we decided to do a blood drive.”

That first year, there were 70 donor spots available, but 90 people showed up. After that, grandmother and granddaughter decided to make it an annual event. This year’s blood drive is planned for 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 26, at Liberty Middle School in Camas.

“I’m a social person, people know me at school and I tell them how important it is to donate,” Pekkala said. “You can give a little blood. It is not gone forever. You might be the person who needs it someday.”

Pekkala was honored at the annual Real Heroes Breakfast Friday at the Hilton in downtown Vancouver. The event is a big fund-raiser for the Southwest Washington chapter of the Red Cross.

Sponsors pay $1,000 per table, and Fred Meyer is the breakfast sponsor. The Columbian newspaper is the media sponsor.

Publisher Scott Campbell served as event emcee.

“(Honoring) the heros is the part I always look forward to,” he said. “It’s up to us to embrace their spirit, get prepared and save a life if there’s an opportunity.”

In addition to Pekkala, the 201l Real Heroes are:

Charlotte Hobson

A first-grader at Daybreak Primary School in Battle Ground, Hobson saw another student choking on food and running into a restroom. She alerted Lynette Woolridge, a school office assistant, who rushed to the restroom where she found the little boy unable to breathe. Woolridge performed abdominal thrusts on him, dislodging the obstruction (a big piece of hamburger and bun), allowing the young man to resume breathing and saving his life.

Eric Bergquist and Miranda Brown

Eric Bergquist, an off-duty firefighter/emergency medical technicican, and Miranda Brown, an off-duty certified nursing assistant, were at an adult coed softball game at Roy Morse Park in Longview when one of the players collapsed. The two rushed to the man’s aid, performing CPR until medics arrived with an Automated External Defibrillator to restore the man’s heart rhythm. Their efforts saved his life.

Connie Shearer

The registered nurse for the Southwest Washington Agency on Aging and Disability was making a routine assessment visit at the duplex of an elderly, wheelchair bound patient who is attached to oxygen around-the-clock.

The patient noticed a large oxygen tank was leaking in her crafts and sewing room and alerted Shearer. Very quickly, static electricity caused the oxygen to ignite, spreading flames throughout the room. Shearer called 911 and moved her patient to safety outside. She then returned to the other side of the duplex to help evacuate the woman’s neighbor who was also oxygen dependent. That tank also ignited. Shearer was also able to move her to safety.

Ryan Michael

Michael is a 911 operator for Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency and received a call from a distraught mother whose 15-year-old son was choking on an unknown object and unable to breathe. He knew that paramedics would be delayed because they were responding to another call. Michael took charge, reassured the woman that help was on the way, and used his training to keep her focused and as calm as possible.

During the course of the conversation, the phone was put down by one person and picked up by other. Michael remained calm, providing instruction about performing abdominal thrusts.

The object, a bouncy ball, which was blocking the boy’s airway, was finally dislodged and the young man started breathing on his own. Michael stayed on the line for nearly eight minutes, continuing to help until paramedics arrived inside the residence.

Jerry Lester and Rowdy Berry

La Center police sergeant Jerry Lester and senior officer Rowdy Berry received a 911 dispatch call for AED assistance. Dispatch called the officers because the La Center Fire Department was on another call and couldn’t respond in time.

Lester and Berry rushed to the residence with the department’s sole AED and found a man unconscious, unresponsive and slumped over in the passenger side of his vehicle with his distraught wife standing beside him.

They performed two-person CPR and followed the instruction prompts from the AED as trained. It restored the heart rhythm to their patient and he began breathing on his own. Lester and Berry’s quick action saved the man.


Early last November while three children slept upstairs, a fire broke out on the first floor of the home of Wendy Mudge and Ed Arthur in Longview. A kerosene lamp had exploded, spewing flaming liquid onto a wall and the family’s dog Sid. The flaming liquid spread flames and smoke rapidly through the first floor of the house. Despite his fur being on fire, their German shepherd sprinted upstairs, barking continually and racing from one bedroom to another to rouse the children. The dog and the family survived. Sid suffered burns to his back and front legs, but has made a full recovery.