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Kent State Student Receives Red Cross Hero Award for Saving
Drowning Child

Kent State student Eric Johnston (center) has received a Red Cross Hero Award for saving a girl from drowning.

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Kent State Student Receives Red Cross Hero Award for Saving
Drowning Child

Posted Dec. 12, 2011 | Foluke Omosun
enter photo description
Kent State student Eric Johnston (center) received an
American Red Cross Hero Award for saving a drowning
girl. Standing with him at the award ceremony are Jonathan
Leebow, executive vice president of Majestic Steel USA,
sponsor of the Hero Awards, and Mary-Alice Frank,
CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland.

(Photo Credit: American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland)

Kent State senior music education major Eric Johnston has received a Red Cross Hero Award for saving a 9-year-old girl from drowning in the Cuyahoga River this past summer. Johnston was recognized at the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland’s annual Hero Awards luncheon.

Madelyn Fisher had been playing near the rain-swollen Cuyahoga River in downtown Kent when she suddenly lost her footing and slipped into the river. Madelyn’s father Todd jumped in after her to try to rescue her, but was overwhelmed by the strong current. Johnston happened to be by the river that day with friends and witnessed what happened. He yelled for someone to call 911 and then jumped into the water to catch Madelyn, bringing her to shore, and then jumped back in to rescue her father.

“I'm not sure that I had much of a choice in saving Madelyn,” says Johnston. “I acted almost entirely on instinct. Everything happened so quickly, and when I saw her fall into the water, I just did what I thought would help and was hoping for the best.

“Once I had gotten in the water, I could see the girl and could tell that she was still very much alive and conscious," Johnston continues. "I just started coaching her to swim toward me as I continued to make my way toward her. I was more relieved than anything once I was in the water because I knew that she was going to be able to make it out okay.”

Kent Fire Capt. John Tosko, who nominated Johnston for the award, says he was glad to see him get the recognition that he deserves.

“The Red Cross Hero Awards are all about people who have gone out of their way to help someone. In this case, Eric risked his life jumping into the Cuyahoga River to save little Madelyn Fisher’s life,” Tosko says. “The river was much higher that day than it is now due to the recent rains, so he certainly could have become hurt himself. I, along with Madelyn's father Todd, felt that he deserved to be recognized for his actions. He is an unassuming young man who certainly doesn't believe himself to be a hero so it is important to recognize him.”

Mary-Alice Frank, CEO of the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland, says the Hero Awards recognizes the unsung heroes in our community.

“I think many of us wonder, ‘What would I do in that same situation?’ Frank says. “Eric never hesitated in that moment of truth. He jumped into the river, putting his own safety at risk and because of his actions, a father and daughter are alive today. Eric defines the unsung hero our Hero Awards are meant to recognize.”

But Johnston doesn’t consider himself a hero.

“It is truly an honor to receive the Red Cross Hero award,” he says. “I feel as if I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and did what anybody else would do. But I am truly grateful for the award and I'm glad that I've gotten to be a part of the Fisher's lives.”

Asked if he would do it again, he answers “I would do it again in a heartbeat. The opportunity to help someone else, whether it's just holding a door for someone or pulling them out of a river should never be missed, no matter the stakes. The next time you see an opportunity to do something nice, just ask, ‘why not?’ and I think you'll find the answer.”