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Emergency responders, dog recognized for saving local man who nearly drowned

ALLEGHENY TWP, PA — An off-duty nurse and numerous first responders were recognized Tuesday for the role they played in saving a Butler County man from drowning.

Tom Kissel, of Mars, was standing on a dock at the River Forest Yacht Club in Allegheny Township this past July 10, when a passing boat sent an unexpected wave his way.

Tom fell into the Allegheny River, apparently hitting his head on a small docked boat, and was rendered unconscious.

Falling in with him was Tater Tot, his 14-year-old, three-legged, cancer-beating Pomeranian.

“He was swimming around me, trying to get help for me,” Tom said. “It’s amazing that he was that smart, he figured out ‘if I stay here, someone will come’ because he could have swam to shore easily.”

Sure enough, Tater Tot’s actions worked, and he was spotted in the water by Mary Jo Lender, a nurse at Allegheny Health Network’s Allegheny Valley Hospital, and her husband.

Mary Jo told Channel 11 they “noticed a little doggy in the water, splashing, struggling, so that’s what caught our attention, and luckily we were close by.”

Mary Jo’s husband jumped into the water to get Tom. He was pulled to shore and Mary Jo performed CPR as medics were called.

“I had no heart beat, no pulse, nothing,” Tom said. “They just kept working on me. They didn’t stop and eventually my heart started back up.”

Tom entered into a coma, but woke up several days later at Allegheny General Hospital, with his wife by his side.

Today, he feels about “90 percent” improved and is so thankful for the folks who came to his rescue.

“If it wasn’t for them, I would have been dead.”

Tuesday, Tom attended a small ceremony at the yacht club, where he was reunited with the many first responders who helped him.

Mary Jo was recognized by the American Heart Association and two state representatives.

“It’s amazing and I’m honored, and humbled, very humbled,” she told us. “I don’t feel you have to be a nurse to help someone, I think we would all do what we could and that’s what each of us did here that day, we each did what we could.”

Tater Tot, too, was recognized, receiving a certificate and goodies from Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley.