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updated: 2/11/2014 4:34 PM

Island Lake boy called a hero after helping choking brother

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  • Joey Scianna, center, receives an award for saving his brother's life.

    Joey Scianna, center, receives an award for saving his brother's life.
    Courtesy of Stephanie Mattson

  • Joey Scianna, right, with his 5-year-old brother, Jacob.

    Joey Scianna, right, with his 5-year-old brother, Jacob.
    Courtesy of Naomi Scianna

  • Joey Scianna, 8, of Island Lake.

    Joey Scianna, 8, of Island Lake.
    Courtesy of Naomi Scianna


An 8-year-old Island Lake boy who cleared his younger brother's airway during an emergency at home is being heralded as a hero.

Joseph Paul Scianna III, who everyone knows as Joey, pushed on 5-year-old Jacob's stomach using the Heimlich maneuver when the younger boy was struggling to breathe.

The effort dislodged a small piece of terra cotta pottery Jacob had put in his mouth. Jacob has Down syndrome and might have mistook the fragment for candy, their mother, Naomi Scianna said.

Joey was honored at a Boy Scout event this past weekend at Wauconda High School. He got awards from the village, the Wauconda Fire Protection District and the local Moose Lodge, which sponsors his Scout group.

Joey was surprised by the attention -- and a little embarrassed.

"I never really wanted these awards," he told the Daily Herald. "I wanted Jacob."

A third-grader at Cotton Creek School in Island Lake, Joey jumped into action Dec. 6 when he was at home with brothers, Jacob and Ben, 6.

Their mother was home at the time, washing dishes upstairs.

Suddenly Joey appeared at her side.

"He said, 'Mom, I just saved Jake's life. But I had to push him down,'" Naomi Scianna recalled.

Joey tells the story this way: The boys were cleaning up downstairs when Jacob put the fragment in his mouth.

"He started coughing and coughing and getting redder by the second," Joey said. "I pushed against his stomach until it popped out."

Naomi Scianna tossed the piece of debris into the trash. Initially she dismissed the event as just another episode in the life of a special-needs child.

"It didn't dawn on me that it was an amazing thing he did until after he did it," she said.

When talking to Joey after the incident, Scianna was moved by something the boy told her.

"He said, 'Mom, I'll always have Jake's back,'" Scianna said. "I think he's amazing. I know for the future that Jacob's going to be OK because he's got brothers like this."

Joey told his mom he knew how to help a choking person because of an instructional poster in the school cafeteria.

The poster was put in place years ago for the adults who work in the cafeteria, not the kids, Principal Darlene Baker said.

"As soon has we heard (what Joey did), we went out and bought a whole lot more," Baker said.

Joey is a Cub Scout in Wauconda Pack 290. Susan McDonald, a den leader in the group, was struck by the boy's actions, too.

The pack leaders have nominated him for a national heroism award, she said.

"This is what Scouting is all about," McDonald said.

Island Lake Police Chief Don Bero was among the people who honored Joey on Sunday.

"(It's) pretty good for a young boy to do that," Bero said this week. "He did really, really good."

Joey said he's relieved his brother is OK.

"I guess he's just very important to me," Joey said. "It wouldn't be the same without Jake."

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