Amherst Teen to be honored by Red Cross for saving his mother’s life

By Jaclyn Bryson

On an average Friday night, University of Massachusetts professor Claire Hamilton and her son George Hamilton, 14, order dinner from Antonio’s Pizza and watching a movie together in the comfort of their home.

But on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 the pair’s plans went awry, when Claire suddenly went into cardiac arrest while watching the movie “Bad Teacher.”

“There was just this moment where she seemed like she was shaking a little bit, and it seemed kind of weird. I didn’t think too much of it so I just asked if she was okay,” George said. “But I could easily tell that she wasn’t okay after a while.”

That is when he began to perform CPR on his mother.

George will be honored for his life-saving action on Thursday, March 28 as one of the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter’s 2013 Hometown Heroes.

An episode of NBC’s “The Office” helped George remember how to properly perform CPR on his mother.

“You’re supposed to do it to the beat of ‘Staying Alive,’” George said, referring to an episode in which the characters learn that chest compressions during CPR should be performed to the rhythm of the infamous Bee Gees tune.

“I think it’s really a testament to the power of the media,” said Rick Lee, executive director for the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter, adding that the Red Cross works alongside entertainment media to ensure that the demonstrations of emergency procedures, such as CPR, are accurately represented.

“It’s not the normal way to learn CPR but it’s hard to argue with the results, isn’t it? His mother is alive today,” Lee said.

George also attributed his quick action to the Student Awareness of Fire Safety (SAFE) program he learned at school, which according to, “is a state initiative to provide resources to local fire departments to conduct fire and life safety education programs in grades K-12.”

George’s mother, said she believes programs like SAFE are valuable because, according to what she has learned from the American Heart Association, sometimes a child may be the only one around to take action.

“It’s really not uncommon that the only person home is a child,” she said.

George added that after starting to perform CPR on his mom, he reached out for help. He quickly called 911 where he received guidance from Amherst Fire Department dispatcher Scott Del Pozzo.

“George was one of the calmest callers I’ve had,” Del Pozzo said. “The calls go so much better if they’ve had the SAFE training.”

But George said there was no denying that he was nervous at the time.

“There was plenty of language and yelling,” he said with a laugh.

Lee said it is not unheard of, but certainly uncommon, for someone so young to be accepting this award.

“What were you doing when you were thirteen?” Lee said. “I’m not sure I could have handled that at that age. He understood that his mother was in grave danger. He knew something about CPR. He had the nerve to begin to provide her the care she needed and then the presence of mind to realize that he needed to call 911.”

According to Lee, the Hometown Hero Honorees event was started a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and has endured because the public craves good news from the community.

“We have the privilege of knowing that there are an awful lot of great people like the heroes of 9/11 who are right here in our community,” said Lee.

George said that instead of focusing on the fact that he is a hero, he is just proud to say that his mom is alive and well today.

“I’m glad I’m not visiting her in a hospital,” he said. But he did add that receiving the award “does feel pretty good. I’m not going to lie.”

According to Claire Hamilton, her sudden cardiac arrest could have ended very differently, possibly resulting in brain damage or even worse.

“You have teenagers and you wonder what they can do,” said Hamilton. “I can nag at him for putting his dirty laundry away, but it’s good to know that if there’s something that’s serious, I can count on him.”

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at [email protected].