On October 28, 2015, 13-year-old Jessica Pelligrini began choking on an apple during lunch. The emergency could have turned fatal had fellow classmate Brandon Williams, also 13, not rushed to her side and successfully performed the Heimlich Maneuver. Marveling at Brandons’s heroism, his father Anthony Williams asked where he had learned to perform the life-saving technique. The answer: SpongeBob SquarePants.

Brandon and Jessica, students at Staten Island’s Barnes Intermediate School (I.S. 24), are both autistic. School paraprofessional Brian Griffin acknowledges to Staten Island Live that “some people may have preconceived notions about autism,” but they are misguided in their negative associations. “These kids are intelligent, loving, just amazing,” he stresses.

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Indeed when Griffin recounts the incident to Staten Island Live, he conveys the swiftness and skill with which Brandon aided Jessica:

“‘The cafeteria is always very noisy, but I heard the kids calling me. I was ready to jump in, but Brandon had it,’ Griffin said. ‘He was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.’”

Williams acknowledges his son’s gifts and notes that absorbing SpongeBob’s Heimlich Maneuver technique is one recent manifestation. He tells Staten Island Live, “[Brandon] picks up things that most of us would miss, and files it all away in his head, and he can recall it all in an instant.” This archive of knowledge, together with the power of recall, empowered Brandon to save Jessica’s live. “That’s how he knew instantly what to do,” Williams explains.

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An experience like this one is bound to forge a connection, but Brandon and Jessica make clear that one already existed. “He’s awesome and cute,” Jessica tells Eyewitness News. On Thursday, she folded him into an embrace and softly told him “Thank you.”

As for Brandon, well, he too made his affection clear. “I just love her,” he told Staten Island Live.

Here’s to Brandon for his sure-footedness and bravery; Jessica for enduring a terrifying ordeal and trusting in her classmate; and to an androgynous cartoon sponge with an odious laugh. SpongeBob, I guess we’ll keep you around.


Contact the author at rachel.vorona.cote@jezebel.com.

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Image via Nickelodeon.