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Mother helps classmates say goodbye

Balloon launch for 7-year-old who choked on toy rubber ball

WYANET – Joan Christian says the lesson she wants children to take from the death of her 7-year-old son Steven is that they don’t need to be afraid to live ... and they don’t have to be afraid to die.

Steven choked on a toy bouncy ball that lodged in his throat and died on April 11.

Last week, more than 200 people gathered at Wyanet Memorial Park for a balloon launch in celebration of Steven’s life – family and friends, classmates and their parents, even strangers.

The day her son died was the day his mother decided to do the balloon launch.

“I stood in the hospital, and I knew I wanted to do a balloon launch for the children,” she said. “It’s a good way for them to say goodbye, and I wanted them to know they didn’t have to be afraid of dying or living.”

Family friend Mikki Kruger was at the hospital that day; she organized the balloon launch and ceremony, which included a U.S. flag presentation to Steven’s parents from his Boy Scout troop. Two poster-size photographs of Steven were placed near the park shelter stage where the ceremony was held, and artwork of a tree with the thumbprints of Steven’s classmates as the leaves was given to his family.

Jan Pistole, a registered nurse at Perry Memorial Hospital in Princeton, talked about being careful when you eat and careful of what you put into your mouth.

Children shouldn’t run or laugh when eating, and should make sure the pieces of food are small enough that they can’t get caught in their throats – the pieces should be no larger than the tip of a pinkie, she said.

Don’t cut food into round pieces, because they can get lodged more easily, and no toys ever should be put in the mouth, she added.

If a child sees someone who appears to be choking, for instance if they put their hands around their throat, run for help, Pistole said.

Joan Christian told the group that she would love to have her son back, but she never would want to take him from where he is now, in heaven with God. She knows Steven will be there, waiting to give her a big hug and to show her around, when it’s her time to die, she said.

Darin Christian encouraged other families to make the most of their time together. He said he takes comfort knowing that his son had someone with him every step of the way, through his transport to Perry Memorial Hospital and then to St. Francis Hospital in Peoria.

At the close of the ceremony, all were given red and blue balloons that they released into the evening sky. 

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