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Brave in the face of danger

Photos by Dan Bishop

April 2013

Officers Roy Horn and Eli Cole

There are heroes among us. Every year, at its Brave Hearts Awards celebration, the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross makes sure that they do not go unnoticed.

The Brave Hearts Awards recognize the life-saving achievements of people who have stepped up under extraordinary circumstances to come to the aid of others. The 2013 honorees, in six categories, have all had their mettle tested in life-threatening situations and prevailed. The Hero of the Year, Cristal Wilson, is just 10 years old.

They will receive their awards at the Brave Hearts: Heroes Among Us event on Thursday, April 18, at Milwaukee Fire Department Engine 23, 2130 W. Oklahoma Ave. The event begins with a reception at 5:30 p.m., with a dinner and program beginning at 6:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $75 per person and tables are also available. For more information on the event, visit

Mary Ochowicz-Sczesny with son David.

Mary Ochowicz-Sczesny, Franklin

Community Safety, Security and Resiliency Award

When her son, David, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer four years ago, Mary Ochowicz-Sczesny knew what she had to do. David, who was then 16, needed a bone marrow transplant. Within three weeks, she worked with the American Red Cross and the Delete Blood Cancer organization to put together Davidís Donor Drive.

The drive registered 255 new potential bone marrow donors, and 13 people who needed a transplant found their match.

"We didnít expect Davidís donor to walk in that day," she says. "Our intention was to help families in the same situation." Subsequent Davidís Donor Drives have registered hundreds more.

While David and his family were anxiously waiting for a match, Ochowicz-Sczesny learned that she had breast cancer. A few weeks later, a match was found for David.

Today, after extensive treatment, both mother and son are cancer survivors and Ochowicz-Sczesny works with women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Thatís what has helped me go through it," she says, "helping others through their darkest days."

Cristal Wilson

Abhay and Amanat SinghOak Creek

Youth Award

When a lone gunman began to attack the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek on Aug. 5, 2012, siblings Abhay Singh, 11, and Amanat Singh, 9, were playing outside. At first Amanat and her brother froze with fear, according to news reports, but then ran inside to warn everyone inside the temple about the shooter.

Because of their quick thinking, many in the temple were able to take cover. Abhay and Amanat made it to the kitchen pantry and hid with a group of women for more than two hours.

In his nomination of the children for the Brave Hearts Award, Pardeep Kaleka, son of the slain temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, says both Amanat and Abhay are heroes.

"If not for them warning others, many more lives would have been lost that day," says Pardeep Kaleka, "including my motherís."

Lt. Brian Murphy

Oak Creek Police Department
Emergency Response Award

Lt. Brian Murphy says he remembers everything about the day he took 15 bullets trying to stop the perpetrator at the Sikh Temple shooting in Oak Creek last August.

Amy Rowell and Daniel

Murphy was the first officer on the scene and distracted the shooter, who was headed for a pantry where terrified Sikhs were huddled. Two of the bullets aimed at Murphy were stopped by his body armor, but the rest hit. Seven people, including the shooter, died in the tragedy.

Murphy, who is still recovering, says, "You do the things youíre trained to do. Youíre in basic survival mode."

The entire Sikh community "has been so supportive," he says. "Everybody is left just to simply ask why."

Officers Eli Cole and Roy Horn

Milwaukee Police Department
Military Award

About 1:40 p.m. on July 16, 2011, veteran Officers Cole and Horn were on patrol near 27th and Burleigh streets. Officer Brent Miscichoski put out a call for assistance as he chased a man on foot in the 3300 block of North 30th Street. The incident began when Miscichoski allegedly saw the man toss something over a fence.

"We were en route when the call came out that a shot was fired," Horn says. They arrived less than a minute later and saw that the man Miscichoski had been chasing had been shot in the torso, Horn says. According to police, Miscichoski and the man had gotten into a scuffle over Miscichoskiís service weapon.

"My partner and I went to the person who was down," Cole recalls. "Roy reached him first, and I grabbed the First Aid equipment."

Cole and Horn were able to stem the bleeding and keep the man calm until paramedics arrived moments later. Miscichoski had scratches and bruises from the altercation.

"At the end of the day," Horn says, "Weíre still here to protect lives."

Both Cole and Horn are military veterans. Cole served in the U.S. Marine Corps and Horn served in the U.S. Army.

Amy Rowell

Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center
Animal Companion Award

She graduated from Marquette University intending to be a teacher, but Amy Rowell soon learned that her true calling was animal rescue work.

Rowell says she was inspired by the Humane Animal Welfare Society in Waukesha to start an adoption program for Milwaukeeís strays. In 2005, she became the founder and executive director of the Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center in Greenfield.

"At that time, there was no agency dedicated to helping animals coming out of animal control," she says. "Weíve placed over 3,500 animals that would have otherwise been euthanized." She has spent many all-nighters caring for cats and dogs that suffered complicated pregnancies and deliveries.

Supported entirely by fundraising and private donations, the center also does significant educational programming for children and teens. Rowell says one of her favorite animals is Daniel, the centerís mascot. Daniel, a cat who has 26 toes, starred in a video that went viral. People who were touched by Daniel sent in $26 donations, and soon $80,000 was raised for a new facility to house the organization.


Cristal Wilson

Hero of the Year Award

Cristal Wilson, 10, has been through the Milwaukee Fire Departmentís Survive Alive House twice, but never guessed that what she learned there might someday save her life and the life of her 3-year-old sister, Kali.

When Cristal heard her father shout, "Thereís a fire!" she ran upstairs, in the direction of the fire, to find her sister, who was in an attic-level room. Cristal says the lessons learned at Survive Alive helped her as she made her way through thick smoke.

"They said to stay near the ground. When I got my baby sister I kind of crouched down to the floor," Cristal says. "There was a lot of smoke coming, so I couldnít really see. I used the back of my hand to see if the door was hot. It wasnít, so we just ran."

By the time Cristal and Kali made it out the back door, windows were exploding from heat, and flames were licking the roof. A man died in the fire, caused by careless use of smoking materials, but Cristal and Kali were safe.

"Iím so proud of her," says her mother, Carla Wilson.


This story ran in the April 2013 issue of: