By Paula Neuman
State Trooper Jesse Graffagnino, 23, was honored by his hometown of Riverview Nov. 19 for his swift action that saved a choking child.
That child, Ella Mae Kate, who will be 2 this month, and her parents, Angel Wells-Young and Jameson Kate, as well as some of their relatives were at the City Council meeting, too, to applaud as Graffagnino receive a proclamation denoting his heroism and service.
It was a happy ending to a scary event that took place on Election Day at Forest Elementary School, where both Wells-Young and Graffagnino once attended school together in the same class. They were at the school at about 7 that evening to vote.
They hadn’t seen each other since middle school, but Wells-Young and Graffagnino recognized each other right away, and said hello.
“We actually walked in together,” the trooper said.
“I introduced him to my daughter and my fiancé,” Wells-Young said.
A candidate outside the polling place was handing out Life Savers candies, and Wells-Young gave one to Ella.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” the mom said with chagrin. “She has all her teeth and eats candy with no problem. But when I went to turn in my registry, she tugged my arm. She couldn’t talk, her eyes were big, and it seemed like she was having a hard time breathing. I took off her scarf and jacket, and flipped her around and patted her back to try to dislodge the Life Saver, but I didn’t know how to do it.”
Wells-Young was very scared and started screaming for help
“Out of the 30 or so people who were there, he’s the only one who ran over,” she said.
Graffagnino quickly assessed the situation, and put to use his training in choking practices.
“He took her out of my arms, and started doing back blows,” Wells- Young said. “Then he flipped her over again and did a chest compression, and flipped her over again and did three more back blows. I saw the Life Saver hit the floor. Ella started coughing, and then she started to vomit. It was really scary.”
The mother was in awe of her childhood friend’s composure during the crisis.
“He was amazing,” Wells-Young said. “There was no panic in his eyes or anything. He went directly into his training. He saved her. There’s no telling how long she could have gone without air flow.”
She remembered that Graffagnino as a grade school student always said he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.
The trooper said law enforcement with the Michigan State Police has been his calling for most of his life.
“My senior year of high school, I received a scholarship to attend the Kiwanis International Law Enforcement Career Academy,” he wrote in a post for the MSP website. “I lived the life of a Michigan State Police recruit for one week alongside other cadets interested in a career in law enforcement. The level of respect, professionalism, discipline and — above all — the tradition that the Michigan State Police offered motivated me. I worked for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department for a year and half until I was eligible to apply to the Michigan State Police. In June 2016, I became a member of the 130th Trooper Recruit School.”
Graffagnino, who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in pre-law and psychology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said trooper training is challenging — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The 22-week recruit school is a paramilitary boot camp-like training,” he said. “It’s very rigorous and demanding. We train with high stress situations, and we are trained to respond. It’s for a purpose.”
Wells-Young and Kate are especially glad he demonstrated that purpose so well on Election Day.
They are still shaken by the choking incident, and find it hard to let Ella out of their sight.
“My fiancé will wake up with panic attacks in the middle of the night,” Wells-Young said. “He watches her when she eats. He doesn’t leave the room.”
When Ella has her second birthday celebration this month, Graffagnino will attend, she said.
“It’s so good to have people like him in the community,” Wells-Young said.
Graffagnino said the attention and honors he’s received as a result of his actions on Election Day are “extremely humbling.”
“It feels good to get recognition and appreciation for serving, and from the community I care so much about,” the trooper said.
He once wrote this in an online profile of himself:
“Just a man on a mission to make this world a better place, one day at a time. You just never know the impact you may have on someone’s life.”