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Norwich - Mr. Steve has an unusual guardian angel in 13-year-old Noah Drayton.
Steve Kimball, 64, started a second career in August as a school-bus driver for First Student Norwich. Since October his run has included a stop at the corner of Terrace and Maennerchor in Taftville to pick up Noah and take him and other students to a private middle school in Montville.
The morning of Feb. 8 seemed normal, Kimball recalled, except that he didn't quite feel right. He shrugged it off and got into his bus at the depot just down the road from Noah's stop.
Noah got in the bus and noticed immediately that the driver he calls Mr. Steve didn't look well; he was pale, coughing and seemed to be slumping. He wasn't talking and joking the way the two of them are used to doing every morning.
Throughout the brief ride to the John B. Stanton School to pick up more riders, Noah nagged Kimball.
"Mr. Steve, are you all right?" he asked over and over. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I said, 'If you're OK, how come your cough is getting worse?'" Noah recalled Thursday.
Kimball said the boy's persistence was getting him aggravated. So Noah quietly sent a quick text message to his parents, Sabryna and Jerome Drayton, that the driver was sick but insisted he was OK. Noah and his mother kept texting while his father called the bus company.
When the bus stopped at Stanton, Noah said he had to go to the bathroom. He ran inside and called his mother to say Kimball definitely was not OK. His father took the phone and asked to talk to Kimball. He told the driver he had called the bus company and asked him to stay put.
Two First Student drivers arrived within minutes - one to continue the bus run and one to drive Kimball to The William W. Backus Hospital.
"I went to the hospital and they said, 'You're having a heart attack,'" Kimball said Thursday, still recovering at his Norwich home. "I didn't recognize it as a heart attack."
Backus flew Kimball by Life Star to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he underwent two surgeries and had a stent inserted into an artery. He said he feels much better now and will be ready to return to work in two weeks.
"Noah is my guardian angel," Kimball said. "God worked a miracle through Noah. He saved my life, plain and simple."
But Noah's persistence didn't end there. Kimball was recovering in the intensive care unit when Noah called to check on him. The nurse told him only family members were allowed to call. But Noah's mother took the phone and told the nurse that Noah had saved Kimball's life and wanted to be sure he was OK.
The nurse allowed Noah to talk to Mr. Steve.
Kimball wasn't the only one thankful for Noah's quick thinking and persistence. On Tuesday, First Student held a ceremony at Noah's school to recognize him for his "heroic leadership." Company officials presented him with a plaque and a $50 prize. His mother brought in a yellow-and-black cake with a toy school bus for the class to share.
"You are being recognized for your quick thinking and showing great care and concern for your driver, and because of you, he will be just fine," the plaque reads.
Noah doesn't care for the sudden attention. He had to be coaxed by Kimball to attend Tuesday's ceremony, and he still shies away from accolades.
"I just did what was the right thing to do," he said.
But Noah wasn't shy when asked whether he was looking forward to Mr. Steve's return to work.
"Oh, yeah!" he said.