OLD TOWN — Ryan Varallo said the only reason he was able to save a man's life last year was because of his Boy Scouts training.
Varallo, a senior at Lake View High School who has been a Scout with Troop 79 since seventh grade, was eating lunch with a former Scout master at Chipotle in October when his lunch mate began to choke.
"All of a sudden, he just stopped eating and his face went pale," the 18-year-old said.
The man stood up quickly and began pacing back and forth. When he finally signaled to Varallo that he was choking, Varallo sprung into action and immediately performed the Heimlich maneuver, which he had been taught through Scout training. After three thrusts, the piece of stuck food came hurtling out of his lunch mate's mouth.
"I was constantly thinking, 'I have to get it out. I have to stop him from choking,'" Varallo recalled. "I kept thinking: What would happen if I don't do it well or get it done in time?"
For his bravery, Varallo was awarded the Boy Scouts of America "Medal of Merit" at a ceremony Wednesday evening at the troop's headquarters at Menomonee Clubhouse, 244 W. Willow St. The troop is sponsored by the Old Town Triangle Association.
According to the troop's website, "the Medal of Merit may be awarded to a youth member or adult leader who has performed some outstanding act of service of a rare or exceptional character that reflects an uncommon degree of concern for the well-being of others."
"I didn't think that anything like that could happen to me," Varallo said of the award.
When asked what might've happened that day if he hadn't learned the Heimlich maneuver through Scout training, Varallo paused.
"Without their teachings ... it's scary to think about," he said. "I might not have been able to effectively perform the maneuver."
Varallo, who commutes to Lake View High School from Ukrainian Village, said his older cousins, also Scouts, inspired him to become one himself.
"I believe it plays a major role in young men's lives. It helps give you a sense of responsibility and a sense of ownership of what you do, and gives you a large amount of knowledge," he said.
In the fall, Varallo will be a student at DePaul University, where he plans to study computer science. He said he especially likes coding.
At 18, Varallo will age out of his current Scout program once he leaves for college, but he plans to get involved with Scout programs for young adults. He said he couldn't imagine not being involved in Scouting in some way, especially after finding out how valuable the skills can be.
"I didn't think it'd be necessary for me to do the [Heimlich maneuver] ... like ever. I didn't think a situation could come up like that in my life. When I was learning all these different procedures, I was thinking, 'OK, at least now I know what to do if something happens,' but I didn't think anything would happen."
"I'm very proud of myself that I know different techniques that could help become the difference between life and death for someone."
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