Bryan Houk was looking for bargains when he accompanied some family members to the Berea Walmart on Thanksgiving night to get an early start on gift shopping.
Houk ended up with more than he bargained for, and a lucky girl ended up with a gift more precious than any Black Friday deal when Houk saved her from choking.
Houk, an employee in the city of Danville information technology department, was standing in one of the long lines at the store with some family members when he was spotted by his ex-sister-in-law, whom he hadn’t seen in years.
Houk said he and the woman chatted while the girl, about a year old, ate small pieces of Doritos chips. After only a few minutes of conversation, the girl began to choke on one of the chips.
The girl, whose name Houk said he still doesn't know after they parted ways so quickly following the incident, began to change color and actually stopped breathing.
"She was sitting in the front of the cart, and you could tell she started to choke," Houk said. "I turned her over and patted her back. Then I stuck my finger in her mouth, and it made her spit up."
It was a relief to the crowd of holiday shoppers who had circled to watch when the child started to cry, Houk said.
“I think everyone was just surprised at what was going on, like I was,” Houk said.
IT workers are typically a behind-the-scenes bunch, and Houk said he didn't want notoriety for his actions, but word traveled fast among city employees.
Houk was honored by the city of Danville and the fire department Monday with a plaque commemorating his potentially lifesaving deeds.
Houk went through CPR training during the city's August safety week put on by the Danville Fire Department, which Fire Chief Woody Ball said is intended to equip city employees and others with the tools to do what Houk did. Even he couldn’t expect the classes to have such a dramatic impact so soon, though.
“His quick actions saved a life,” Ball said.
Houk said he had seen his father do something similar, but it’s doubtful he would have known exactly what to do if he hadn’t had the course.
“Having two kids of my own, I just did what I would have tried to do if they were in that situation,” Houk said.