Sept. 24, 2017, started out like any ordinary day for Bud Webb. It could have been his last.
Sometimes heroes really do walk among us, heroes like Kaleb Webb.
The 16-year-old was honored by Kent County Levy Court the night of Dec. 19 for actions Kent County paramedics credited with saving his grandfather’s life.
During their last meeting of the year, commissioners awarded Kaleb the prestigious Kent County Medal, recognizing the Milford High School junior’s efforts applying CPR to 69-year-old Alton J. “Bud” Webb Jr.
It was an evening of happiness and pride, though tinged with sadness at the absence of one person: Kaleb’s mother, Kimberly, who succumbed to cancer in October.
The nearly three dozen friends and family members at the ceremony, including Kim’s sister, Karin Ennis, credited Kim’s nursing studies and Kaleb’s learning from television medical programs with helping him deal with Webb’s sudden heart attack.
Mother and son always had been very close, even more so after Kim’s cancer diagnosis six years ago, noted Kaleb’s grandmother, Juanita Webb.
“They were always together,” she said. “He was her helpmate during her illness.”
An ordinary day
Although the meeting began as usual, with Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta convening it at “7 p.m. sharp,” anticipation clearly was in the air as Kaleb’s friends and family filled auditorium. A number of county paramedics who had recommended Kaleb for the award looked on with evident pride.
Sunday, Sept. 24, the day of Webb’s heart attack, started like many others. Kaleb, Webb and an assistant were doing landscaping work outside the People’s Place center along Airport Road in Milford, just north of the Kent County line.
Juanita Webb recalled that her husband admitted he did not feel well that day. He went out in the almost 90-degree weather to work alongside his grandson.
Although used to physical labor, after a while the 69-year-old grandfather said he had to go home. He called Juanita to have her pick him up.
“I remember going to the corner of the building, in the shade,” he said. “I went to sit down . . .”
Juanita arrived to find her husband sitting on the ground, being held by the assistant.
“I flipped out,” she recalled.
Bud Webb, though, remembers nothing else until waking up in the hospital.
‘There was nothing’
What happened afterward, however, is forever etched in Kaleb’s mind.
Although Webb had suffered a minor heart condition in 2005, that incident wasn’t in Kaleb’s thoughts when his grandfather suddenly slumped over.
“I wasn’t thinking that was the problem,” Kaleb recalled.
Although Webb’s assistant was holding him up in a bear hug, Kaleb pushed the man out of the way, calling the 911 emergency center at the same time.
“I checked his pulse and there was nothing,” he said.
Using information remembered from television programs and from months of helping his terminally ill mother, Kaleb began chest compressions. Juanita started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while waiting for Kent County paramedics to arrive.
After a few minutes, Webb coughed and seemed to come around.
“He started breathing again, but then we lost him,” she said. Kaleb continued the compressions until the medics arrived.
“He was in cardiac arrest when we got there,” paramedic Ashley Dukes recalled. “[Kaleb] was performing CPR, and we took over.”
Unconscious and showing no signs of life, Webb responded to the emergency technicians’ ministrations and they took him to Bayhealth Hospital in Dover.
In Dukes’ mind, Kaleb’s quick actions were a decisive factor.
“[Kaleb] really made our job a lot easier,” she recalled. “He really made a big difference.”
According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all cardiac arrest deaths occur outside a hospital with no one around to help the victim. The same study showed that while 92 percent of Americans can recognize the signs of a heart attack, only 27 percent were aware of all the symptoms and know to call 911.
As Kaleb and Juanita followed the ambulance, Kaleb’s mind was fraught with fear and concern for his grandfather’s survival.
“I ended up pounding the dashboard of the car,” he said. “I was feeling helpless.”
‘She’s looking down on him’
During Webb’s recovery, they also were dealing with Kimberly Webb’s advancing cancer.
It initially appeared she had beaten Stage III breast cancer, but the disease returned and then spread.
Kim had worked as a phlebotomist and, before her illness, had been attending Delaware Technical Community College, working toward becoming a registered nurse. Some of that interest rubbed off on Kaleb, who had been with her almost constantly as the cancer continued its relentless progression.
Although terminally ill, Kim learned how her son had put his knowledge to work when Bud Webb went into cardiac arrest.
“She knew and she was happy,” Juanita Webb recalled. “She knew before she died.”
Kimberly Webb succumbed to her cancer, which had reached her brain, Oct. 14 while in hospice care. She died just 20 days after her father’s heart attack.
“Kim was very proud of Kaleb,” Laura Hudson, her friend of 30 years said before the Levy Court ceremony. “It’s sad for me that she’s not here to see him honored, but I know she’s looking down on him tonight.”
A rare honor
At the ceremony, Levy Court commissioners praised the 16-year-old for his quick thinking. Bud Webb stood nearby as Banta draped the gold medal, on a blue and white ribbon, around Kaleb’s neck.
“You bought time for the experts to get there and take over,” Commissioner Eric Buckson told Kaleb. “What you did was you bridged that gap, and that’s so important.”
Commissioner Jim Hosfelt, a former Dover chief of police, said he was proud of Kaleb’s actions.
“Having served 26 years in law enforcement, I can tell you that there are people in that capacity who can’t do what you did, so you should be very proud of yourself,” he said.
Kaleb looked slightly uncomfortable amid all the fuss and attention.
“I didn’t really want to do this,” he said afterward. “I wasn’t asking for this to be put out in public.
“But I’m OK with it,” he said. “My grandfather means more to me than a medal.”
Created in 2007 to honor heroism and meritorious service, the Kent County Medal had been presented 24 times previously. It last was awarded March 28 to retired Delaware Adjutant General, Lt. Gen. Frank D. Vavala in recognition of 50 years of service to the state.