By Todd DePastino

Air Force Veteran Kristian Clayton

Kristian Clayton on VBC Happy Hour in August 2022

Quick action and old Air Force training made youth football coach Kristian Clayton a genuine hero last August, after he saved a baby choking on a plastic soda cap.

Coach Clayton had just given his players a break from drills during an all-day camp at a field in Vandergrift, PA, thirty miles northeast of Pittsburgh. As the kids were getting drinks, and Kristian was sitting with another coach, they heard screams erupting nearby.

“Help me!”

Kristian stood up and scanned across the field, over to his players, and across the street.

“Help me!” came the cry again. “He’s not breathing!”

Kristian saw a woman on her front porch holding a bundle. He ran 50 yards through a hole in the fence and took the limp baby from his mother’s arms.

“Instinct and training kicked in,” Kristian explained on our VBC Happy Hour back in August ( He immediately began administering a juvenile Heimlich Maneuver. But after ten compressions, there was still no breathing. Whatever was obstructing the windpipe was lodged tightly. So, Kristian turned the child over and carefully felt around the boy’s mouth and throat. After what felt like minutes, he reached as far as he could and managed to push the cap to the side and allow some air through. Then, he popped the cap out.

The boy started crying and screaming, which were sounds of joy to the stricken mother. She credits Kristian for saving her baby’s life.

Two details make the life-saving heroics especially miraculous. First, the baby had a rare condition, a laryngeal cleft, an abnormal opening between the larynx and the esophagus. That hole in the child’s throat made it unlikely the cap would ever be removed without extreme measures.

Secondly, Coach Clayton’s football team normally practices in the evening and was only there that afternoon for a special once-a-year summer camp. On almost any other day, there would have been no one at the field.

Kristian Clayton, age 45, joined the Air Force in 1995 because of a prank. During his senior year in high school, a friend jokingly signed Kristian up as interested in the military during Career Day. An Air Force recruiter showed up at the school and called Kristian out of class.

“When they told me there was a recruiter in the office waiting for me, I thought they meant a football recruiter,” he said.

Kristian heard the recruiter out and decided the Air Force was a good fit. He served as an Air Force medic until 1999.

“This old sailor salutes you,” said Vietnam veteran Donn Nemchick to Kristian on VBC Happy Hour.

Donn speaks for us all. We’re proud to have you as part of our community, Kristian!