Location: Dearborn Heights, Michigan
Date: May 6, 1991
Shortly after 11pm on May 6, 1991, Mary Jane Westenberg of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was home alone in her bedroom with her daughters, five-year-old Stephanie and three-week-old Lindsay April. As Mary Jane set the baby in her bassinet, she began experiencing chest and abdominal pains. She was having trouble breathing, and the pains were getting worse. Mary Jane moaned to Stephanie to call 911. Before Stephanie dialed the phone, she unlocked the front door and turned on the porch light so rescuers could get inside.
Stephanie's call was answered by 911 dispatcher Ken Serwatowski. At first he couldn't understand the young girl on the other end of the line because she was crying so hard. "My mommy's having chest pains," she repeated. Serwatowski immediately dispatched an ambulance from the Dearborn Heights Fire Department. EMTs Bill Branham and Dan Lamarand rushed to the scene. "The worst thing I thought," recalls Branham, "was, don't let it be a heart attack. That's the hardest part of our job, to see that happen in the presence of family."
Meanwhile, Serwatowski tried to calm Stephanie and keep her on the line. When he learned that she was only five, he thought about his own nieces and nephews, and he felt the most important thing he could do was reassure her that help was on the way. To get Stephanie's mind off her emergency, he talked to her about other subjects. "Where did you learn how to use 911, in school?" asked Serwatowski. "Yes, but I never used it before," she replied. He could hear the baby crying in the background. "Do you have a little brother or little sister?" "Little sister." "What's her name?" "Lindsay April." "You're going to have to help your mom take care of her now, you know that?" "Yes." "Is that your first sister?" "Yeah." "I have five," said Serwatowski. Stephanie giggled. Serwatowski heard the sirens in the background and told Stephanie she could hang up the phone.
Stephanie felt great relief when the rescuers arrived because she knew they would take good care of her mother. The EMTs were concerned about Mary Jane's complaints of chest and abdominal pains and thought she might be suffering a heart attack. As Branham attended to Mary Jane, Lamarand picked up Lindsay April, who was crying hysterically, and handed her to Stephanie. He told her she was very brave and courageous to have called 911.
Mary Jane's mother, Barbara Keller, arrived to take care of the children as the EMTs got Mary Jane into the ambulance. Mary Jane was admitted to Garden City Hospital where tests showed that she was suffering from a gallbladder attack. She underwent surgery to remove the gallbladder, but had it not been for Stephanie, things might have turned out differently.
"I was worried that my mom was going to die," says Stephanie, "but she didn't. My hope came true. I learned if I ever have another problem, I already know what to do for me and my whole family, which is call 911." Stephanie praises dispatcher Seratowski. "He seemed like a real nice man," she says. "He just talked to me a lot to make me talk better because I was crying." "I was really amazed," recalls Seratowski. "She handled herself better than a lot of the adult callers that we have."
On June 10, 1991, the city of Dearborn Heights presented Stephanie with an award for heroism for helping to save her mother's life. "I don't feel like a hero," says Stephanie, "except that I just feel like I saved my mom." Mary Jane says, "Stephanie will always be known as my little hero."