Dawnette and Marissa were simply acquaintances and coworkers, but that changed on Jan. 18. 

Marissa, 26, was sitting in the Tomah Goodwill breakroom munching on some veggies when she put a few too many carrots in her mouth.

Dawnette, meanwhile, had joined the group that was gathered at the table. The 49-year-old, who is new to the team and still learning people’s names, had a habit of coming in early to work before clocking in and was following her normal routine.

And what a blessing that proved to be.

They all were having a good time — or so they thought — when they realized that Marissa wasn’t laughing like the rest of them. She was choking and turning purple.

“I put lots of carrots in my mouth, went to chew them and kind of inhaled,” she said. “I spit some out, and I remember that I couldn’t breathe. I felt someone pat me on the back. It was really lodged in there.”

Knowing the light patting on the back wasn’t going to work, Dawnette took over and grabbed Marissa. Hard. So hard she thought she had broken a rib. She proceeded to perform abdominal thrusts and dislodged the carrots.

Marissa said the event was “traumatizing,” but she is extremely grateful for Dawnette’s quick reaction. “I hugged her so tight the next day.”

“I was glad I was there,” Dawnette said.

The calm and unflappable Dawnette, who worked for years in hospitals, has a history of being there.

The Tomah Goodwill cashier learned to do the Heimlich maneuver at school when she was 12 and put it into practice a few years later as a teenager when her 2-year-old niece was choking on a filter screen from a faucet. When the forceful blows didn’t work, she scooped it out with her finger.

Dawnette, who says she isn’t a panicky person and is good under pressure, relays other life-saving heroics matter-of-factly and with extreme humility.  

She saved a man from drowning.

When a man she was walking with in California got shot by someone driving by on the city bus, she expertly made a makeshift tourniquet out of clothing before running to get help.

She has called 911 in other emergencies.

Dawnette, who is proud to be living out her grandfather’s motto of being prepared “just in case,” has learned how to roll with the punches from some of the hard knocks she has been dealt in life.

“I’ve learned to be resilient,” she said.

That resiliency has paid off, and Marissa, for one, is grateful to be a beneficiary. The Goodwill merchandiser expressed her appreciation to Dawnette in a card and gave her some chocolates, and her family stopped in to the store to personally thank her.

It’s also safe to say that Dawnette and Marissa aren’t just acquaintances anymore.

Marissa now will come up to Dawnette, put her arm around her and ask for a hug. Dawnette is always there to oblige.

Dawnette, who hadn’t learned Marissa’s name until that fateful day, is happy she was in the right place at the right time.

Crying, they both hug each other and hold on.

“I’m just grateful you saved my life,” Marissa said.

“I’m just glad you’re OK,” Dawnette replied.