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posted: 9/19/2013 5:30 AM

Vernon Hills officer honored for saving child's life

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  • Vernon Hills police officer Joe Reyna, right with sons Joe and Alex, was honored by Chief Mark Fleischhauer, left, for saving a child. Dispatcher Eugene Travis is standing and Reyna is joined by sons, Joe and Alex.

       Vernon Hills police officer Joe Reyna, right with sons Joe and Alex, was honored by Chief Mark Fleischhauer, left, for saving a child. Dispatcher Eugene Travis is standing and Reyna is joined by sons, Joe and Alex.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 

The call on a Wednesday evening in late August was for a child choking. And as had happened before, Vernon Hills police officer Joe Reyna was first to arrive.

He was immediately handed a limp and unresponsive 4-year-old girl -- she wasn't breathing but had a pulse. Reyna began resuscitation, and she was quickly able to breathe on her own. He carried the child to a waiting ambulance.

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The action earned the 12-year veteran accolades from the community and a Lifesaving Award from the department. Had he not been there and known what to do, the outcome could have been tragic.

Patrol officers in Vernon Hills work 12-hour shifts and for the most part conduct preliminary investigations of crimes and enforce traffic laws. But they also primarily are first responders when help is needed.

"Most of us go through our entire careers without an opportunity to be involved in a life-and-death situation," Police Chief Mark Fleischhauer said during an award presentation Tuesday at the Vernon Hills village board meeting. "But then most of us aren't Officer Reyna, either."

Remarkably, this is the third time in less than four years that Reyna, 36, has saved a child.

"Every time, the parents handed over the kid," Reyna said as he waited with family and co-workers for the presentation. "Luckily for all three, they had a heartbeat."

He downplayed his involvement, citing annual training and the resilience of youth as factors in his success.

"Kids can endure a lot in those situations," he said of the Aug. 28 save. "It comes down to the fact she's a tough little girl."

In this instance, emergency dispatchers Eugene Travis and Sarah Silliman were also noted for their participation.

"We had a little problem verifying (the location)," Travis said. "The main thing was he got to the right house. Joe took over from there."

Fleischhauer noted Reyna's "quick response, cool demeanor and professionalism" in saving the three children. He also mentioned that when police officers take their oaths, they hope to make a positive impact on the life of at least one person.

He said it wasn't a stretch to note "there are at least three families here in Vernon Hills who would say that Officer Reyna has made a difference in their lives."

Reyna was joined for the award by his wife, Siobhan, and sons, Joe, 10, and Alex, 7.

As is often the case with local awards, Mayor Roger Byrne said a few words as well.

"Your dad's special," he told the Reyna boys.

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