Diane Bell: Heroic action wins youth, 13, a Girl Scout Medal of Honor

Girl Scouts San Diego gave Cadette Girl Scout Amelia Umstadter, 13, its Medal of Honor for quick action during an emergency.
Girl Scouts San Diego awarded Cadette Girl Scout Amelia Umstadter, 13, its Medal of Honor (red ribbon) for quick action during an emergency.
(Arielle Bader / Girl Scouts San Diego)

Los Peñasquitos girl is only the fourth San Diegan in a decade to earn the national Girl Scout Medal of Honor


Last Sept. 4 started as a fun Saturday at the Los Peñasquitos home of Anna and Karl Umstadter as the family got ready to go sailing. Then things quickly turned chaotic.

As Karl, a dedicated cyclist and scuba diver, rushed through breakfast, he gagged on a large piece of banana. As he tried to dislodge the lump in his throat, he fell back and smacked his head against the granite counter and crumpled to the floor.

His daughter, Amelia, then a High Tech Middle Mesa seventh-grader who had just turned 13, was in the kitchen, witnessed the commotion and rushed over to help. She found her dad lying in a pool of blood, silent and not breathing.

Not panicking, she followed her instincts. At first, she attempted the Heimlich maneuver. “On an unconscious person twice my size, it’s pretty hard to do the Heimlich,” recalls Amelia, who was unable to lift her dad up to grip her arms around his torso.

So, Amelia did the next best thing — chest compressions — while yelling to her mom, who was upstairs, to call 911.

As an Encinitas Junior Lifeguard, she had seen CPR demonstrations during her lifeguard training and at school. She also had been involved in the local Girl Scouts beginning in first grade as a Daisy and graduating to the Cadette level, filling four vests with achievement badges along the way.

“I was upstairs and heard blood-curdling screams,” recounts her mom. When she ran downstairs, she saw Amelia giving CPR. “He was out, not breathing, lying in a pool of blood around his head.”

The 911 emergency operator gave phone instructions for dealing with the blood flow. Karl’s eyes opened briefly, then rolled back, and he was out again.

The good news: He was breathing. The obstruction had been dislodged.

At the hospital emergency room, he was examined and his scalp closed with six staples. He was released three hours later.

“I got quite a concussion,” says Karl, 52. “I remember being at the sink, standing up, and then I remember being loaded in the ambulance.” Anything in between remains blank.

“If Amelia wasn’t around, I would have been unconscious on the ground suffocating and bleeding out,” he adds. “I’m very lucky to have my daughter.”

“It almost seems surreal when I think about it,” injects Anna. “It happened so incredibly fast. It’s scary when you think that someone’s life could be gone so quickly.”

Amelia hardly talked about “the incident,” except to a few friends, and didn’t desire any recognition. But word got out.

When a Girl Scout district staffer heard of the events of that day, she suggested Amelia’s quick action and cool thinking might merit one of the national organization’s highest awards: the Girl Scout Medal of Honor, a red ribbon with a gold medallion bearing an eagle with an olive branch.

Carol Dedrich, Girl Scouts San Diego CEO, l to r, Amelia Umstadter (holding her medal) and parents, Anna and Karl Umstadter.
From left, Carol Dedrich, Girl Scouts San Diego CEO, Amelia Umstadter (holding her medal) and her parents, Anna and Karl Umstadter.
(Arielle Bader / Girl Scouts San Diego)

Last week, in a ceremony at the Girl Scouts San Diego headquarters on the east side of Balboa Park, Amelia was presented the award by Carol Dedrich, local group CEO, for her courage and action during a home emergency. The national office confirms that only 18 such medals have been awarded in the United States so far this year.

“For Amelia to maintain composure during a critical and emotional time is extraordinary,” announced Dedrich. She called Amelia a shining example of the highest principles of the Girl Scout Promise and Law.

This marks only the fourth time in the past decade that this medal has been awarded to someone living in the San Diego/Imperial County region.

  • In 2022, the quick action of Nevaeh Henrich, 16, helped save the life of a Coronado neighbor who was choking. Nevaeh called 911. Because she was too small, she told the woman’s kids, who were taller, how to perform the Heimlich maneufer until emergency technicians arrived.
  • In 2015, Aubrey Kelsay, 7, of Encinitas, helped save the life of a choking kindergarten teacher at her school.
  • In 2013, Poway Scout Elisiana Grismer, 9, helped rescue her younger sister from nearly drowning at Torrey Pines State Beach.

Amelia doesn’t feel like a hero. She shies away from the spotlight. Nevertheless, the red ribbon is proudly pinned to her Cadette Girl Scout vest.
A month after their home emergency, Amelia and her mom enrolled in a Girl Scout first-aid course and are both now CPR certified. (Her dad already was certified).

They are urging others in her troop to take the class, as well.

Amelia shared her new goal with the San Diego Girl Scouts: “I want to encourage everyone to become educated on basic lifesaving procedures and what to do in an emergency.”

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