Penelope Brown and Dante Mazzarelli. Photo: Denise Civiletti

When she heard the commotion and a co-worker’s cry for help in the dining room, Penelope Brown went dashed from her serving station to see if she could help.

The 37-year-old Riverhead Senior Center employee found Dante Mazzarelli choking. He couldn’t breathe or talk. Brown, who had taken a CPR course as part of training for her new job last year, knew those were the critical signs of someone in need of immediate intervention to clear his airway.

“I was scared, because I’d never done the Heimlich before,” she recalled yesterday afternoon, seated with Mazzarelli outside Riverhead Town Hall, where she’d just been recognized for saving his life July 28 at the senior center.

“I was afraid I was hurting him more than helping him,” she said.

Mazzarelli, 78, is thin and somewhat frail. But Brown’s swift action didn’t hurt him. It dislodged a large piece of turkey that had gotten stuck in his throat.

The turkey “popped out of his mouth” when she performed the maneuver, Brown said.

He broke down and cried yesterday when the Riverhead Town Board presented Brown with a certificate of recognition for the effort that saved his life.

“I can’t thank her enough,” Mazzarelli said, seated on a bench next to Brown outside Town Hall, surrounded by Brown’s family members and other Senior Center staff. “It’s amazing what she did,” he said.

“She grabbed me — I don’t remember anything after that. When it was over, I was surprised to see who did it. I thought it was a big guy,” he said, smiling at Brown.

Seniors packed the Town Hall meeting room for the presentation, and as they filed out of the building, many with the aid of walkers, one by one they stopped to kiss and embrace Brown and thank her for her heroism. The soft-spoken Brown seemed uncomfortable with all the attention.

“I just did what anyone who’s had the training would do in those circumstances,” she said.

Brown has worked at the Senior Center since June 2015.

“We’re all so very proud of her,” said Brown’s grandmother, Bertha Davis, who attended the ceremony, which took place at the start of yesterday’s town board meeting. Brown’s husband, Christopher Magee, sons Prince and Dylan Magee, parents Carl and Dorice Brown and cousin Jerald Davis were also all on hand for the honor.

“We’re proud of her, too,” said senior center director Judy Doll.

“I’m grateful,” Mazzarellli said. “I owe her my life.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.