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A true life-saver: Eunice Kimbler 'drawn' to help people

The Record-Eagle - 12/25/2017

Dec. 25--TRAVERSE CITY -- A lifetime of caretaking gave Eunice Kimbler the training and instinct to help save a life.

Kimbler, a direct support professional for Summertree Residential in Mancelona, has been working in healthcare her entire life, caring specifically for developmentally disabled or terminally ill children and adults.

She didn't hesitate in November when one of her clients, John Burkitt, began to choke on an apple as she drove him from a community dinner.

"We were listening to music and singing and then I heard a strange noise coming from the back," she said. "I looked in my rearviewmirror and could tell he was grasping for air and was choking."

Kimbler said she sped off to the shoulder of the road and had to use her legs to get under him to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. After several blows to try and free the debris, the pair toppled, and out popped the apple piece.

Kimbler called her boss, Kelly Hughes, and took Burkitt to the hospital. She credited her many years in the health field for staying calm through the ordeal.

"The doctors said with everything he went through, he was seconds away from dying," Kimbler said. "I lost it after I knew he was OK. It definitely scared me but in the moment I was just doing my job. You panic after you're done; you just get it done."

Kimbler has worked for Summertree for 10 years and has been caring for Burkitt, 51, since August, but she's known him for most of her life.

Eunice met Burkitt through her husband, Troy Kimbler, when they were just children. Troy Kimbler's parents would offer respite to Burkitt's parents and take him to the local bowling alley, which was also where Eunice met Troy at ages 9 and 12, respectively.

"It was because of John that we met," she said. "I've known him my whole life. I would do it for anybody though -- it's something I'm drawn to do, I can't explain it."

Eunice's passion for helping others was propelled by her older sister, Theresa, who was born with cerebral palsy. She watched her overcome her disability to work with others who were differently-abled. Growing up, Troy's family fostered for terminally ill children, disabled adults and developmentally disabled children -- something the pair bonded over. Troy also works at Summertree.

"We're all here for a reason, we've worked together since I was 18 years old," Eunice said. "First we were inseparable friends and we were married when I was 19 and he was 21 -- here we are 26 years later and still doing healthcare."

Hughes was "in awe" when she heard about Eunice saving Burkitt's life.

"I was scared for her and scared for John but she responded very appropriately and I felt that the fact that John's life was spared that she deserved to be recognized for her efforts," Hughes said.

In 20 years, Hughes said using CPR or other life saving techniques have only been used a handful of times and that it's not a regular occurrence. Caretakers regularly are trained and re-certified every couple of years through the American Red Cross.

"I think (Eunice) is amazing. I've known her personally, as a friend before I started working here and she's been doing this work for a lot of years -- she has a very large heart and lots of compassion," Hughes said.

Eunice said when she sees someone in trouble, she likes to do what she can and use her training from the job and her time with the Star Township Fire Department.

"I would like people to realize that people with developmental disabilities, they're just like anybody else -- their life is just as important and if anybody sees anybody, regardless of abilities, if somebody needs help to not be afraid and step up," Eunice said.

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(c)2017 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.)

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