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10 Amazing Child Heroes

Kristance Harlow

Everyone knows and celebrates mythic heroes and famous leaders. But then there are those everyday heroes who just make a difference when the need suddenly arises. This list is about celebrating the youngest of our everyday heroes—kids whose courage and quick thinking prevented tragedy and saved lives.

10 Kamal Nepali
Descended A Gorge To Save A Toddler

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Photo credit: Slleong

The Seti River in Nepal runs from the Annapurna region of the Himalayas to the city of Pokhara, a major tourist and trekking destination. Before the disastrous flood of 2012, the river normally vanished beneath the city into narrow chasms. This course carved the river a home deep below the surface by wearing away at the mountains.

In June 2008, two-year-old Aradhana Pradhan fell 20 meters (60 ft) into one of the river’s gorges. Rescue workers tried to bring the toddler to safety, but the crevice was just too narrow to fit any of them. After 22 hours, the little girl had stopped crying and most feared that she’d died.

One rescuer, Salum Nepali, could get 8 meters (25 ft) into the crevice but no farther. He left the scene, and when he returned, his 12-year-old brother Kamal accompanied him. Kamal volunteered to try to enter the crevice that had defeated the adults, and though the rescuers needed some convincing, they eventually accepted his offer and lowered him in.

Unable to see how Kamal was progressing, they relied on a walkie-talkie to help guide him as he descended into the darkness. After a nerve-racking 30 minutes, Kamal appeared at the surface. Aradhana was nestled in a bag that he’d slung across his back. The little girl went to a nearby hospital, where she made a full recovery. Kamal was hailed as a hero and later received multiple titles and awards for his bravery.

9 Michael Bowron
Hotwired A Truck To Save His Dad

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The small town of Bonnie Rock sits in Australia’s Wheatbelt region on the far western edge of the Outback. In such low-population parts of the country, help can be hard to come by. So when the Justin Bowron’s truck flipped over, tearing open his scalp and pinning him in place, it seemed like he didn’t stand a chance. He was 50 kilometers (31 mi) from a hospital—and that hospital didn’t have a doctor; there were no doctors within 200 kilometers (124 mi). He was as good as isolated in the middle of nowhere.

Yet he had his 12-year-old son Michael with him. This alone didn’t solve the problem—Michael too had been partially injured, he couldn’t treat his father, and he couldn’t possibly run for help in time. But Michael, who’d been in the truck’s sleeper bunk during the crash, was at least in better shape than Justin, and he was able to crawl out of the wreckage. And he was able to reach the truck’s radio. Unfortunately for the two of them, that wasn’t enough. The radio had died when the crash ripped it from the truck.

Then Michael, at his father’s instruction, fetched the truck’s spare battery. And with no previous experience with electronics, he hot-wired the radio to bring it back to life. He had to strip the wires off the radio and then connect them to the external battery. And throughout the process, the truck’s engine continued to run, leaking gas and oil that threated to ignite.

Michael managed to get the radio working. Within an hour of being trapped, Justin was hauled off in an ambulance. He was treated for his multiple injuries and credits being alive today to the actions of his brave son.

8Titus Hill
Walked Barefoot In The Snow To Save His Family

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Hundreds of car accidents in the United States happen every year because of cell phone use, and in Colorado alone, winter weather ushers in 5,000 crashes. The two factors intersected for the Hill family driving home after Thanksgiving dinner in 2002. Tammy Hill’s cellphone rang, she reached for it, and her pickup truck spun out of control. It rolled over five times before it came to a stop.

Her three kids—aged seven, four, and one—were in the back of the truck. All three were fine, having been strapped securely in child seats or behind seatbelts, but they were hardly prepared for a disaster. They’d already changed into their pajamas and had shed their shoes at their grandparents’ house, ready to slip into bed as soon as the truck rolled into their own home’s driveway. And now they were alone, their mother having been thrown from the vehicle and left unconscious in the snow.

The eldest child, Titus, unbuckled himself and checked on his two sisters. Then he took off to get help. Again, it was well below freezing, he wore just his pajamas, and he was even barefoot—but he took off to get help. And this seven-year-old trudged through the snow for half a mile until he reached a dairy farm. The workers there didn’t even speak English, but his panicked utterances of “My mom, my mom” got the message across.

Titus’s mother was in critical condition when paramedics arrived. It turned out that she’d fractured a dozen bones in her neck, back, and rib cage. Without Titus’s quick thinking and decision to go for help immediately, she likely would have perished in the crash.

7 Elspeth “Beanie” Mar
Saved Choking Classmate

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Photo credit: ABC News

Choking is terrifying for anyone, but it’s an extra threat to the very young. It’s one of the top causes of injury and death for young children, with six children choking to death every month in the United States.

Six-year-old Elspeth “Beanie” Mar was eating lunch with her friends in a Sacramento area elementary school when one of them starting choking. A piece of apple had wedged firmly in classmate Aniyah Rigmaiden’s windpipe. Aniyah began clawing at her own throat, desperate to breathe.

Beanie stood up and calmly went over to Aniyah. She grabbed her from behind and performed the lifesaving Heimlich maneuver on her. Just one thrust is all it took for Aniyah to spit out the apple that had been blocking her airway.

What surprised everyone most was Beanie’s nonchalant way of saving her friend’s life. Afterward, she simply sat back down. Apparently, she’d learned the maneuver from a Disney channel show. Who said television isn’t good for you?

6 Victor Flores
Risked Life To Save Friend Who Fell Through Thin Ice

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Drowning feels similar to choking but is even more terrifying. Water pours into your lungs, your body’s defense mechanisms kick in, and your throat starts to spasm. Your airway constricts as surely as if a chunk of food sealed it shut. And then you also have to deal with the terror and confusion of your eyes slipping below the water’s surface. You respond by blindly trying to buoy yourself on anything in reach, including other people. This is one reason lifeguards need special training—not just to drag someone out of the water but to do so without being dragged down and becoming drowning victims themselves.

So when a kid with no training nearly drowns and then comes out saving both himself and his friend, you can be sure that he’s got the hero gene.

In December 2009, nine-year-old Victor Flores was on his grandfather’s property with a friend, Aiden. Aiden, a seventh grader, wanted to venture out on the ice over a small pond. Victor warned him that it was too thin, but Aiden went ahead. That’s when the ice cracked, dumping Aiden into the freezing water below.

Victor tried desperately to save Aiden but then fell in himself. Aiden, panicking, instinctively pushed Victor down to try to get above the surface. Yet Victor remained calm, swam away from his friend, climbed out of the water, and fetched a pole. He then used this pole to draw Aiden out of the water, with some help from his grandmother, who’d now heard them struggling and had come to help. Without Victor’s quick thinking and presence of mind in the face of danger, both boys would have drowned that day.

5Jeremy Wuitschick
Stopped Bus From Crashing When The Driver Passed Out

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The yellow school bus is such a familiar and mundane part of childhood that it’s the last place you’d expect kids to feel particularly vigilant. The ride happens first thing in the morning, and there are no teachers around. It’s just a time for naps and joking with friends. Studies even show that teenagers aren’t really up and attentive until around 8:30 at the earliest. So 13-year-old Jeremy Wuitschick had to be a true hero for saving an entire school bus from disaster when he should have barely even been awake.

It was a regular morning in April 2012. Jeremy was sitting in his usual place on his bus place only a few seats from the front when he saw the driver suddenly slump down. The bus kept going forward, but the driver’s hands had left the wheel and nothing was guiding the vehicle.

The seventh grader jumped into action, grabbing the controls and steering to the side of the road. He couldn’t brake the bus—he couldn’t reach the pedals. But he managed to bring the vehicle to a stop by yanking the keys out of the ignition.

Other kids on the bus dialed 911. And one of Jeremy’s classmates, Johnny Wood, revealed himself to be a hero as well, performing CPR on the driver until help arrived.

4 Timmy Miles
Saved Siblings From Burning Car

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Not all heroic stories end with everyone alive. This one’s about a suicide. Gaylynn Miles succeeded in killing herself, but if it weren’t for her son’s quick actions, she’d have succeeded in killing her three children as well.

Gaylynn spent time in a mental hospital in 2000, and she and her husband Tim divorced later that year. Then in January 2011, Gaylynn picked up her children from school one day and told them they were going on a trip to Gallup, New Mexico. She instead drove to a remote area of the Zuni Mountains, where she fed each child a dozen pills. The pills would ease the pain of the cold, she said. She swallowed the pills as well.

All four passed out in the car. But then something happened that the mother hadn’t planned. Gaylynn’s foot spent so much time on the gas pedal that the car’s catalytic converter overheated and the car caught fire.

The fire threatened to kill them all even faster than the pills or the cold, but the heat or smoke first awoke the eldest of the three children. Timmy, 13, saw the dashboard on fire, and his first instinct was to try to put out the flames. When that failed, he rushed to free his 11-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister from the car. He tried to do the same for his mother, but he couldn’t. It’s possible that at this point she was already dead.

The children waited for the fire to burn out. Then they returned to the burned car that held their dead mother. They had to—it was the only shelter they had.

They spent all night there, huddling for warmth. When morning came, they walked until they found help, and then they were taken to the hospital to be treated for their burns. We can hope that the courage Timmy showed in the face of mortal danger carries on after living through such a horrific event.

3 James Persyn III
Saved Woman From Her Rapist

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A university senior in Michigan was walking to her car in January 2013 when a man took her at gunpoint. Her captor was the recently paroled Eric Ramsey, aged 30, who had been in jail for five years for felony assault. He forced her into her car and drove to his mother’s home where he raped her. But the young woman’s ordeal still wasn’t over.

Ramsey then bound his victim and forced her back into the vehicle, and as he drove away, he revealed that he was about to kill her. With the car still in motion, the woman jumped out, breaking one of her arms in the process. She ran to the nearest lit house and began knocking at the door with her one good arm. The house turned out to contain just three children, their father having left to fetch his fiancée from work.

The oldest of the children, James Persyn, had been told not to open the door for strangers, but he made an exception for this desperate stranger crying for help. The woman ran inside and warned all three children to hide—a man was out there and wanted to kill her. James locked all the doors and led everyone to the bathroom. He then turned the lights off and waited there, the family dog under one hand and his hunting knife in the other.

Ramsey found the house, and he pounded at the door. The locks held tight. But the man then went to the garage, took two cans of gasoline, poured them on the door and struck a match.

James now faced his house burning down, but he couldn’t open the door without risking exposing them all to the attacker. So he kept the four of them in the bathtub, and he called 911. Help arrived, and the fire was put out. And Ramsey? He rammed a police car and was shot dead before sunrise.

2 Sacramento Valley High School
The Baseball Team That Lifted A Car To Save A Girl

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Photo credit: KRCA

In May 2013, a mother came to pick up her daughter at a California Valley High School. While parking, she hit the car in front of her, and she quickly backed up, not seeing her daughter right behind the car. She reversed so quickly that she ran right over the girl, who screamed as the car pinned her in place.

The school’s baseball team was practicing nearby and heard the commotion. They ran to the parking lot, sprinting and hopping fences on the way, and they surrounded the vehicle. They then lifted it clear off the ground so that the girl could be pulled to safety.

The fight or flight mechanism in humans is automatic and powerful. When we react to high-pressure situations, our strength increases dramatically. Our muscles, which normally work at some 65 percent of their capacity, manage much more when fueled by adrenaline. Adrenaline also heightens your perception. It seems to slow down time, makes you ultra-aware of danger, and leaves you remembering details far more specifically than you would under any other circumstances. This all adds up to a “superpower response” that lets people like these boys achieve the impossible and save lives.

1 Riley Braden
Saved An 18-Month-Old From Drowning

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This last case involves the youngest of any of our heroes and also the youngest of any the people they saved.

Florida in the summer is so sweltering hot that everyone heads to their nearest pool to cool off. Perhaps this is why Florida has the highest rate of children under 15 drowning in the United States. The state’s Department of Health also estimates that more than seven out of every 100,000 children below five perish from drowning every year. Nationwide, nothing other than birth defects kills more children that age, and most of these drowning children die in swimming pools.

Five-year-old Riley Brandon was cooling off with her neighbor in Destin, Florida at a swimming pool popular with families in May 2009. Riley was swimming in the shallow end in the Floridian weather when she noticed a baby fall into the water. The 18-month-old had dropped below the surface and none of the adults had seen it happen.

Riley, who’s known how to swim since she was just two, dove down to the baby and pulled her out of the water. She retrieved the baby in a matter of seconds, saving it from any lasting injury.

The Girl Scouts awarded Riley their Lifesaving Award for her efforts, and her friends at school praised her for her courageous actions. Her parents used to be search-and-rescue divers, and perhaps she’d picked up from them that saving people from the water is simply the normal thing to do.

Kristance is a travel writer, editor, and researcher. She’s addicted to globetrotting and has done everything from teaching English to Tibetan Buddhist Nuns in the Himalayas to earning her graduate degree in England. An avid culture geek, she’s a trained anthropologist and archaeologist. Originally from no-town USA, she is now a serial expat currently in Argentina with a serious love for chocolate and boozy cocktails.
Connect with her on Twitter, read about her adventures at DiggingToRoam.com, or have a laugh at her GIF-filled Tumblr.