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Child care worker from Elgin helps an injured child

Donielle JohnstElgState Trooper Jonas Shook April 17 Red Cross Heroes Breakfast Chicago. Shook nominated Johnstfor her helping keep baby alive

Donielle Johnston of Elgin and State Trooper Jonas Shook at the April 17 Red Cross Heroes Breakfast in Chicago. Shook nominated Johnston for her helping keep a baby alive at the scene of a car crash last summer on Interstate 290 near Itasca.

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Updated: June 10, 2013 2:03PM

For Donielle Johnston of Elgin, the date June 6 already had special meaning.

It’s her best friend’s birthday.

It was on June 6, 2010, that her now-late mother’s health took a turn for the worse after she suffered from debilitating seizures.

And on that early summer afternoon in 2012, she helped save a life.

Johnston was driving to visit her friend and her family in Brookfield that day after getting off work teaching 2-year-olds at the Kiddie Academy in Streamwood.

She had just turned onto I-290 from the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway and was near the Irving Park Road bridge when she happened upon a bad crash.

With no air conditioner in her car, Johnston had the windows down, the passenger’s side more than the driver’s. As traffic merged out of the way, she heard a woman’s voice scream, “My baby!”

“She wouldn’t have been screaming if things were already being taken care of. It was one of those screams that went right through you,” Johnston said.

Without giving it a second thought, Johnston pulled off the road and stopped on the shoulder to see if there was anything she could do to help.

She recalled encountering a tall, burly man who had turned as white as a ghost who told her he had helped pull a car off a baby.

According to reports, the baby’s mother was driving east on I-290 when the SUV hit a wall along the route and rolled over near Irving Park Road. Police said that the 3-month-old was in a safety seat that had been improperly installed, and the force of the collision partially ejected the child from the seat.

Johnston said that by the time she pulled over, a state trooper was coming up along the shoulder. She talked with him about getting further aid, then went to the boy’s father, who was cradling the injured infant.

Both the boy’s arms were hurt, with bone exposed from the left one, Johnston said, and his head was bleeding, too. So Johnston, who had trained in first aid for her job, took tissues and paper towel she had in her car to use as makeshift compresses. State police soon gave her gauze and gloves.

She made sure the boy was breathing, felt his chest to see how his heart was beating, and helped keep the child calm and alert. Someone else held a towel to help keep the hot sun off the infant.

“It seemed like forever,” she said.

Paramedics from Itasca arrived. The child was airlifted to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, according to reports, and the two adults were treated for minor injuries at Adventist GlenOaks Hospital in Glendale Heights. State police cited the mother for improper lane usage, driving without insurance and no child restraint, reports stated.

A rare act

Johnston never made it to her parents’ home that night and spent just a little time with her friend, decompressing from what had happened.

“I was freaked out a little,” she said.

Although Johnston found a name through a newspaper report on the crash, she never made any contact with the family after the accident.

“Part of me would love to know how things have turned out, but I don’t want to impose or to bring back bad memories. If it’s meant to be, it will happen,” Johnston said.

As for her actions, Johnston said she had never done anything beyond helping with typical childhood mishaps before that afternoon and felt she was in the right place and the right time to help.

“I didn’t think twice, and normally I look away when there is blood on TV shows,” she said.

Johnston learned from State Trooper Jonas Shook, who nominated her for the Red Cross Medical Assistance Hero award, that it is rare for people to do what she did.

Still, “It’s weird, because I don’t feel like I did something heroic. (To be called a hero) is not why I did it,” Johnston said.

Thankful for the nomination and honor, Johnston said of the accompanying breakfast banquet at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago last month, “It was nice to be able to help other people through the money the benefit raised for the Red Cross.”

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