Sunday, May 09, 2021

Second-Grader From Pa. Saved His Baby Sister's Life After Performing CPR He Learnt From Watching John Cena as 'The Substitute'

A second-grader from West Hazleton in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania is being hailed a hero.

Picture: Jaxson and Layla Dempsey | Credit: Kristen Durso

Eight-year-old Jaxson Dempsey saved his baby sister’s life, using a skill he learned on TV.

On Wednesday, Jaxson’s father was driving with Jaxson and 20-month-old Layla in the backseat. Jaxson heard Layla make a noise and quickly realized she was choking on a chicken nugget. 

The eight-year-old, who's very protective of his baby sister, sprang into action while his father tried to pull over. Without hesitation, Jaxson executed the Heimlich maneuver on the baby. He leaned her forward and used the heel of his hand to slap her back between the shoulder blades until she coughed up the nugget.

Update (4/4) - WWE wrestler and actor John Cena filmed a video message for the 8-year-old Hazleton boy who recently saved his baby sister's life! In the recording, Cena calls Jaxson Dempsey a hero.

"Now I heard a story about you and it really touched my heart. A story that in a time of crisis you were brave enough to take action and in doing so you saved your little sister's life," Cena tells Jaxson in the video.

Jaxson used the Heimlich maneuver on his sister, Leila, 20 months, after he realized she was choking on a chicken nugget.

He learned the technique through the Nickelodeon show, "The Substitute." During the episode, Cena demonstrates how to perform CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.

"I wanted to commend you because the actions of a true hero are those who do act in times of crisis. Usually when bad things happen, one of the toughest things for all of us to do is take action," Cena tells Jaxson in the video. "You jumped right in and helped out the best you could and in doing so you saved your sister's life."

He ends the message with words of appreciation.

"I really want to say 'Thank you for being you, Jaxson.' Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you from all of us," he said.

Update (4/2) - "Everyone at Nickelodeon is so proud of Jaxson and his heroic actions, and we are honored to be a part of such a remarkable story of good news and courage! Yay for Jaxson and Leila!!!" Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler said in a statement to PEOPLE.

"We were driving to my haircut, and I noticed she was starting to choke from a chicken nugget from McDonald's. I told my dad to pull over. Then I was starting to pat on her back, and it got out," said Jaxson.


Jaxson’s father says he had no idea Jaxson knew how to do this. Jaxson says he learned the move watching an episode of Nickelodeon's hidden-camera prank show The Substitute where WWE superstar John Cena gave a lesson on CPR and the Heimlich.

"It's called The Substitutes on Nickelodeon, and in the very first episode, John Cena was on it, and in the last part, he showed how to save someone when they're choking," Jaxson told

What Jaxson had in mind was a season one episode featuring John Cena, where Cena teaches a class of young students the basics of CPR on a dummy named Chuck.

Jaxson’s parents are proud of his quick action and Jaxson says he’s happy his baby sister is okay.

Jaxson's dad Matt says he's not shocked that his son stepped in and saved his daughter's life.

"He amazes us every day, you know—some of the things he says and does, and his actions. We're simply blessed to have the child that he is, the things that he does for his family, his friends, for his little sister. He's a good big brother," said Matt Dempsey.

Matt says he's thankful for his son's quick thinking because he doesn't know what could have happened.

"If I was by myself and Jaxson wasn't with me, and I stopped and gave her a chicken nugget, I couldn't hear her because she was choking. She wasn't coughing; she wasn't panicking. She just had no air going through; she wasn't breathing," Dempsey said. " Thank God Jaxson was there because, without him, I don't know if Lelia would be here."

The family says this experience has been eye-opening, and every day with both of their children is a blessing.

"He's just a special boy. We've said that ever since he was a baby," said Jaxson's mother, Kristen Durso.

"Leila always gets chicken nuggets. She eats them perfectly fine. He got his food and handed her a nugget," Kristen explained.

"I have good hearing and I was just listening to music and I heard this," Jaxson told the Tribune Publishing, as he made a series of choking noises. "And I heard her choking."

"I have good hearing and I was just listening to music and I heard this," he said, as he made a series of choking noises. "And I heard her choking."

And that's when he reflected back on an episode of "The Substitute" starring WWE superstar John Cena. In it, Cena gave a lesson on CPR and the Heimlich.

"The scene came into my mind," Jaxson said. "And I sprung into action to save a life."

He unbuckled his safety belt and reached over to Leila. He wiggled her forward, placed his hand behind her back and hit her three times.

"If I didn't see that show. If I didn't unbuckle, she would be dead," Jaxson said.

"Within the time he screamed for my fiancĂ© to pull over the car — they said it was only seconds but it seemed much longer — he was able to get it dislodged and she spit it out," Kristen said.

"My dad told me I saved her life," Jaxson added.

Matthew had no idea Jaxson knew the Heimlich maneuver. Neither did Kristen.

"I remember specifically watching this episode with my son," Kristen said, "because John Cena was on and we watch wrestling."

She guessed that the two watched the episode at least a year ago.

"My son remembered this and did this, and lo and behold, he used it for a good purpose," Kristen said.

Jaxson's grandmother, Betsy Durso, recalled coming home from work the day of the incident.

"He was so proud of himself," she said. "He said, 'Nana, you aren't going to believe this. I saved Leila today.'"

She said the entire family is proud of him.

"I had no idea that he could do that," she said. "He learned it from television. He's like a little sponge. He's always absorbing everything he sees."

Kristen said her son is very caring and believes he wouldn't have hesitated to save anyone.

"It wouldn't matter if it was his sister, me or his dad, We see him interact with his friends and he's always so protective of them," she said.

In knowing that he saved his sister's life, and that his story is getting around, Jaxson said he feels "hyped."

"It makes me feel happy inside, and happy on the outside also. I'm happy in my brain," he said.

"Her face was bright purple and red, and she wasn't really breathing. Jaxson sprung into action before I even opened the door," dad Matt Dempsey told WYOU. "I couldn't believe it. I mean, he's always been a really good big brother, but I never knew he would know what to do with that."

Awesome work, Jaxson!

Watch the video above to see Cena go undercover as “Mr. Barnes” in The Substitute, teaching unsuspecting kids some life-saving techniques while getting a few laughs along the way.

Update (4/2) - Jaxson said he feels "like a hero so much in [his] heart," and that he believes all children should learn CPR in case they find themselves in a similar situation.

"I would say thank you [to John Cena] for being on that show," he told WYOU. "It taught me a lot about how to save someone's life."

The boy's heroics were celebrated with a local parade, in which more than a dozen firetrucks came by to flash their lights and blow their sirens in his honor, WNEP reported.

Cena, a 16-time World Champion, has been lauded by mainstream media for his work with Make-A-Wish. He holds the record for the most wishes granted by a single individual, at over 650 wishes.

First responders honor young boy who saved sister’s life

HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A second grader became a local hero when he saved his baby sister’s life, using a move he learned from celebrity John Cena.

The story gained national attention. Wednesday night, he was celebrated by his entire community.

Hazleton area first responders came together Wednesday night to honor Jaxon Dempsey for his bravery. It was incredible to watch. He kept saying this was the best day of his life.

Around 20 fire trucks from Hazleton and surrounding area fire companies paraded down South Poplar Street Wednesday evening to salute local hero Jaxon Dempsey.

“I can’t believe this is happening! This is the best day of my life. I can’t believe I’m a hero now,” Jaxson said.

Last week, the eight-year-old saved his baby sister from choking. McAdoo volunteer firefighter Richard Kott planned the parade. He says as a first responder, Jaxson’s story struck a chord.

“I contacted a bunch of our local fire departments to come out and salute the young man who saved his sister,” Kott said.

It was an emotional moment for Jaxson’s father, Matthew Dempsey.

Matthew was driving when 20-month-old Leila started choking on a chicken nugget in the backseat. Immediately, Jaxon, who was sitting next to her, gave her the Heimlich and saved her life.

Monday, Jaxson told Eyewitness News he learned the move from WWE superstar John Cena who demonstrated it on an episode of Nickelodeon’s The Substitute.

David Bittler, a press executive for Nickelodeon gave Eyewitness News this statement: “Everyone at Nickelodeon is so proud of Jaxon and his heroic actions, and we are honored to be a part of such a remarkable story of good news and courage! Yay for Jaxson and Leila!!!”

“He saw it on TV, he learned it, he applied it and saved his sister’s life,” Kott said.

During the parade, Representative Tarah Toohil presented a letter of recognition from the state commending his bravery. Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat gave Jaxon a certificate for his heroic action.

“It’s the same certificate that we give to our officers and firefighters for life-saving rescues,” Cusat said.

“It’s a really special honor for me,” Jaxon said.

He was also made junior fire chief. Jaxon’s story is an example of why it’s important to teach kids about emergency first aid.

“Hopefully this does teach other kids that if Jaxon can do it, they can do it as well you know. They don’t have to be afraid and if they could they spring into action,” Matthew said.

“This is the best day of my life and thank you everyone for being here!” Jaxon said.

He’s got plenty of time to think about it but Jaxon says he’s now considering becoming a firefighter when he grows up.

Jaxon’s parents say they plan to tell Leila how her brother saved her life once she can talk.


Young hero honored by Freeland American Legion for saving baby sister’s life

FREELAND, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) – In recent weeks we’ve told you about a Luzerne County boy who saved his baby sister’s life.

After being honored previously by his school’s PTA and having a parade thrown for him by first responders and lawmakers, another group stepped up Friday night for a salute of its own.

“The Friends of the American Legion are very proud of you and so is this community,” said Commander Gerald Gaffney of American Legion Post 473.

It’s the latest accolades for eight-year-old Jaxson Dempsey, this time from American Legion Post 473 in Freeland, honoring him for saving his baby sister’s life last month.

“So, we would like to present you with this certificate of heroism,” said Commander Gaffney.

Jaxson used a technique he learned from WWE superstar John Cena on an episode of Nickelodeon’s ‘The Substitute.’ He was able to dislodge the chicken nugget she was choking on in about 30 seconds.

It spared 20-month-old Leila Dempsey’s life.

“My dad told me, Jaxson you’re a hero. And I was like what, no. And then my dad told me, yeah, you are a hero,” said Jaxson.

An organization that knows a thing or two about heroes feels the same way.

“When I seen this, in fact, I got tears in my eyes. I thought, there’s an eight-year-old boy, he knows how to do that, to save his sister’s life. How many people that are much older wouldn’t know what to do,” said Commander Gaffney.

“And Jaxson, we would like to present you with this medal of heroism,” said Commander Gaffney.

Jaxson hopes to inspire other kids and adults to be prepared for emergencies, whenever they may happen.

“They should learn this, because if they have a sister and this happens, they would not be here right now,” said Jaxson.

John Cena sent Jaxson a personalized video message, commending him for his valiant efforts in a time of crisis.


Pennsylvania Legion post honors 8-year-old hero

On March 24 while in the backseat of his parents’ car, 8-year-old Jaxon Dempsey noticed his 20-month-old sister Layla was choking on a chicken nugget. With a calm and awareness well beyond his years, Jaxon used the back of his hand to slap Layla on her back – a method he’d seen taught by World Wresting Entertainment superstar, actor and TV pitchman John Cena on Nickelodeon’s The Substitute.

The Pennsylvania youth was able to dislodge the chicken nugget, saving his sister’s life and garnering media attention both locally and from Sports Illustrated, People and even Great Britain’s Daily Mail. He’s also been honored by the PTA at his school, Heights Terrace Elementary, while around 20 fire trucks from his surrounding area came together for a parade in front of Jaxon’s house honoring the young boy.

Jaxon has been presented by letters of recognition and certificates for his heroism from state leaders. Cena even sent him a personalized video message to applaud his efforts.

And when the commander of American Legion Post 473 in nearby Freeland heard about Jaxon’s life-saving moment, he wanted to add to the list of accolades the young boy has received. On April 9, Jaxon and his family were invited to Post 473, where the hero was presented with a medal of heroism by the post’s American Legion Family.

“I just happened to see in the paper what (Jaxon) had did, and I brought it up at our Legion meeting,” Post 473 Commander Gerald Gaffney said. “I brought up giving him a medal for what he did, and everybody was good with it.”

Gaffney said Jaxon’s reaction to his sister’s life-threatening situation is what stood out to him. “When I saw that kid took it upon himself, being 8 years old, I thought ‘man, there are people who are 20 years old who wouldn’t know what to do,” he said. “At our meeting I said ‘what a great thing that kid did. We should honor him.’ And everybody was on board.”

Jaxon’s reaction to being honored by Post 473 was genuine. “He was overwhelmed, and so were his parents,” Gaffney said. “The kid isn’t bashful. He said ‘the whole world knows about me.’ I said ‘that’s great. It’s for a good reason. A lot of people, the whole world knows about them because they did bad things.

“I said ‘there you are, a young boy. To think right away to do something to save your sister’s life … she’ll remember that when she grows up.’”

Gaffney said honoring Jaxon was another way to show its community that there is more to Post 473 than being a gathering place for veterans. “When you show people that’s not what you’re all about, it makes you feel good and it makes the community feel good,” he said. “I always feel good when we can do good things for our community.”


LVHN Honors 8-year-old for Heroic Actions

HAZLETON, LUZERNE CO. (WOLF) — Eight-year-old Jaxson Dempsey walked through the halls of the Lehigh Valley Hazleton Hospital in celebrity fashion, but just a couple months ago he found himself in a not as glamorous situation. He was riding in the back of his father's car when his sister Leila didn't seem right.

“They were both eating in the back seat and all of a sudden Jaxson just started yelling to me that Leila was choking," said his father Matt Dempsey

Leila began choking on a chicken nugget and without hesitation, Jaxson sprung into action.

“He jumped right into action by bending her forward and knocking on her back to knock the chicken nugget lose," said Dempsey.

This all happened before his father Matt could safely pull over.

“When I opened up the car, her face was bright purple and she took a gasp of air," said Matt Dempsey.

“It came into my mind and it was a life saver," said Jaxson Dempsey.

It was all quick thinking Jaxson said he learned after watching an episode of the Nickelodeon show "The Substitute." It featured one his idols actor and wrestler John Cena, who helped dislodge food from someone who was choking

“In that video he was doing CPR and put a piece of bacon in his mouth and then he pushed it out a couple minutes later," said Jaxson Dempsey.

Today, more than month after what could have been a catastrophe, Jaxson is being honored by employees at the Lehigh Valley Health Network who risk everything to save lives just like him.

"I mean from what I’m gathering and what I’ve been told about it, it was the real deal," said Dr. Anthony Valente, LVHN Hazleton Chief Medical Office. “Really you don’t have a lot of time, you have to get things done quickly," he said.

Now Jaxson is hoping others will hear about his swift actions and remember his story in times of crisis.

“It will be a life saver because if they have a big sister or a baby, it will save a life, said Jaxson Dempsey.

When doctors asked Jaxson what he wants to be when he grows up he said a doctor, but he tells us he wants to be a firefighter. Either way the LVHN staff said he is more than ready for either field.


Originally published: Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

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