By Emily Thornton, Red Cross Volunteer

(left to right) Jacob Pribilsky, athletic trainer Kelsey Brennan, and Colby Turner. (photo courtesy Colby)

By Emily Thornton

He said he just walked over to talk to a friend who had just finished his 400-meter race, one Saturday afternoon at Walla Walla High School.

Little did 18-year-old senior Colby Turner know, he would help save track teammate Jacob Pribilsky’s life — earning him the highest award given by the American Red Cross for saving or helping sustain life while not at work, using knowledge learned in a Red Cross course. Turner will receive his award, the Certificate of Merit, on March 15 at the Walla Walla YMCA.

“He started having trouble breathing,” Colby Turner said of his track teammate and friend Jacob Pribilsky, also 18. “I had him sit down and his dad came over and was asking questions, and he just stopped answering. His body got relaxed and he started frothing at the mouth.”

Turner added that Pribilsky had no health problems besides asthma, but he had never seen his friend like that day — April 21, 2018. Pribilsky was seizing, Turner said, so he rolled him to his back to drain the fluid from his mouth, and his seizure subsided.

“I called for the athletic trainer,” Turner said. “And I took his pulse and didn’t get anything. He started getting blue in the face.”

Turner didn’t hesitate.

“I was focused on what I needed to do to help,” Turner said. “I started doing compressions, and someone from the athletic department came over with an AED.”

He added that one of the track team members’ parents watching the meet was a firefighter, and called paramedics. Several other first responders also were in the crowd, standing by to help, he said.

“I was on the ground doing cycles of CPR,” Turner said. “It didn’t feel like we were there that long before the paramedics got there.”

He thought he’d performed one or two cycles, but was unsure of that, as in that moment time seemed irrelevant. The other responders administered two shocks with the AED, and Pribilsky, revived, began yelling.

“I’ve never saved anyone before,” Turner said. “But we’d just gone over it in training.”

Turner has been a part-time lifeguard at the YMCA for the past four years and taught swimming lessons off and on, he said. With that comes the requirement to learn CPR and other life-saving skills through Red Cross courses.

“I don’t think anyone thinks they’re going to be in that situation to help someone else,” Turner said. “And I never thought I’d have to use it outside work… I hope I never have to do it again, but I’d never hesitate if I needed to.”

Learn CPR:

His quick response likely saved his friend’s life and also from other trauma, he and his YMCA supervisor, Erika Miller, said. After paramedics took Pribilsky to Providence St. Mary Medical Center, he was flown to Spokane for advanced treatment where a doctor determined Turner had saved Pribilsky from brain damage, Turner said. Pribilsky has made a full recovery, he added, and he’s glad.

But, Turner’s spotlight wasn’t over.

The YMCA’s Miller said she heard of his efforts from an onlooker at the track meet, and knew what she should do.

“There’s a lot of attention on all of the negative things teenagers do,” Miller said. “This is a prime example of a good thing to highlight.”

There were other reasons Miller said Turner’s actions and the Merit award were important. “Everybody should learn CPR,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always use it.”

Michael Sylvester, at the Red Cross Lifesaving Awards Program, echoed her. “We encourage all to get trained so they will have the confidence, knowledge and skills to help in case they might be called on someday to take ‘extraordinary action’ in order to help save someone’s life,” he wrote in an email.

Sylvester also said the 100 year old award is gaining momentum. He said his department now gets hundreds of nominations per year. But they have to be true. Accounts are verified in various ways, such as police and/or business reports, news articles/broadcasts, witness statements, and letters from supervisors, he said.

The work to verify life-saving efforts was worth it. “It’s important because they’re stepping up at a time when they don’t have to,” Sylvester said.

To learn about the awards and other stories, visit

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